of emergency room visits and hospitalizations of children with
severe food allergy reactions nearly tripled in Illinois over
five years, a recently released study by Northwestern Medicine
reported, raising questions about the cause of such a dramatic
upswing and offering an especially comprehensive data that may
supply insights for what is a growing nationwide issue.
in visit frequency were found across all ages and ethnicities
studied, the report states, even among groups that in the past
had relatively low levels of allergy problems.
study is really important because it shows the impact food
allergies are having — especially in Illinois," said
lead study author Dr. Ruchi Gupta, a professor of pediatrics
at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine and a
physician at Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital
big question is why ... and that’s what we are working on to
find out. We know that food allergies are tied to both
genetics and the environment — and we know that something
has changed for it to have gone up so drastically," she
children in the research experienced anaphylaxis, with
symptoms that can include difficulty breathing, reduced blood
pressure, loss of consciousness and potentially death.
study included discharge data from 1,893 emergency room visits
for food-induced anaphylaxis at about 200 Illinois hospitals
from 2008 to 2012.
showed 17.2 emergency department visits and hospital
admissions per 100,000 children in 2012, up from 6.3 per
100,000 children in 2008. The rate increased each year of the
study by an average of about 30 percent. The findings will be
published in the Annals of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology.
visits overall rose 8 percent at Lurie Children’s Hospital
in the same five-year period, according to Janis Quinn,
director of Lurie’s emergency department.
one diagnosis goes up that significantly, you need to ask why
— and that’s why you study it," Quinn explained.
unclear how Illinois compares with other states because few
have accumulated five years of data to track the condition,
perplexing to scientists is how income and race affect food
allergies. Previous studies had shown that the most-affected
children were white or from higher-income families. Hispanic
children and children from lower-income families were least
affected, Gupta explained.
recent study showed that food allergy-related visits to the ER
by Hispanic, Asian, black and white children all increased.
Hispanic children, who previously had the lowest reported
cases of food allergies, had the biggest increase of emergency
room visits and hospitalizations, with a 44 percent average
point is unequivocal: Food allergies are a growing public
health issue that affect an estimated 8 percent of U.S.
children — often with tragic consequences. In 2010, a
seventh-grader died after eating Chinese food cooked in peanut
oil during a party at her Chicago school.
years ago, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommended that
parents withhold peanuts from children at risk of allergies
until age 3. But in February, new findings published in the
New England Journal of Medicine suggested that babies who are
regularly fed small amounts of peanuts from infancy may be
less likely than others to develop peanut allergies, though
the regimen should be attempted only under a doctor’s
knows the difficulties of navigating everyday life with a
severe allergy not just as a pediatrician, but as a mother.
She has an 8-year-old daughter who is allergic to peanuts and
is everywhere, and even if a food doesn’t have an allergic
ingredient, there’s always the risk of cross-contamination
... so even if one flavor does not contain nuts, the scoop
used to serve it may have just been in a nutty ice
Christina Cochran, an emergency room physician at Lurie, said
she has seen more food allergy-related visits than in the
not at all surprised by these numbers," Cochran said.
clear that there’s an increase," she said, "but
there’s also been an overall increase in education. Parents
are recognizing symptoms, calling their pediatricians ... and
coming to the ER a lot quicker."
Moreno is one of those parents. She said she doesn’t waste
any time getting to the ER with her 7-year-old daughter,
Sophia. In fact, the Shorewood, Ill., mother estimates that
she has made about five trips to a nearby hospital for Sophia’s
food allergy and asthma so far this year. When Sophia goes to
the ER with a peanut-related episode, the intervention usually
calls for steroids, such as Prednisone, she said.
eyes swell up, she breaks out in hives, she has trouble
breathing," Moreno said. "It’s very scary."
was diagnosed with the peanut allergy at age 3. Neither her
twin sister nor her parents are affected with the condition.
Sophia sits at a peanut-free table at Trinity Christian School
in Shorewood but is so sensitive that just standing near a
trash can with a peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich can cause
her to start to itch and wheeze. Many destinations — like
the zoo — are simply off-limits.
don’t even leave the house without Benadryl, an EpiPen and
an inhaler," Moreno said. "Until you experience the
terror, you just can’t know."