NEW YORK: Parents are reporting more skin and food allergies in their children, a big government survey found.
Experts aren’t sure what’s behind the increase. Could it be that children are growing up in households so clean that it leaves them more sensitive to things that can trigger allergies? Or are mom and dad paying closer attention to rashes and reactions, and more likely to call it an allergy?
“We don’t really have the answer,” said Dr. Lara Akinbami of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the senior author of the new report released today.
The CDC survey suggests that about 1 in 20 U.S. children have food allergies. That’s a 50 percent increase from the late 1990s. For eczema and other skin allergies, it’s 1 in 8 children, an increase of 69 percent. It found no increase, however, in hay fever or other respiratory allergies.
Already familiar with the trend in food allergies are school nurses, who have grown busier with allergy-related duties, like banishing peanuts at school parties or stocking emergency allergy medicine.
Food allergies tend to be most feared; severe cases may cause anaphylactic shock or even death from eating, say, a peanut. But many food allergies are milder and something children grow out of. Skin conditions like eczema, too, can be mild and temporary.
It’s been difficult getting exact numbers for children’s allergies, and the new report isn’t precise. It uses annual surveys of thousands of adults interviewed in person. The report compares answers from 1997-1999 to those from 2009-2011.
Parents were asked if — in the previous year — their child had any kind of food or digestive allergy, any eczema or skin allergy, or any kind of respiratory allergy like hay fever.
The researchers did not ask if a doctor had made the diagnosis or check medical records. So some parents may have been stating a personal opinion, and not necessarily a correct one.