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One in Nine Food Allergy Emergencies Are No Accident

George Doyle/Stockbyte/Thinkstock(DENVER) -- In one out of every nine cases in which a child is given food that sets off an allergic reaction, it is not an accidental exposure.  Parents are giving their children known food triggers, a new study suggests.

The authors of the study, published Monday in the journal Pediatrics, said they are not completely sure why it's happening.

"In terms of purposeful exposures, those percentages haven't been reported before," said Dr. David Fleischer, assistant professor at National Jewish Health in Denver, the lead author of the study.  "Maybe parents were testing their children to see if they had outgrown their allergy.  There's going to be a follow-up study, going back to families and asking exactly why caretakers were giving these foods on purpose."

Another finding was that at least 70 percent of the 500 infants followed in the study had at least one allergic reaction over the study period, and more than 50 percent of the infants had more than one reaction -- despite the fact that parents or caregivers had already been informed of the child's allergy.

Taken together, the findings suggest that even after a food allergy diagnosis is made, children with allergies are still at risk.

With nearly 8 percent of children in the United States affected by food allergies, researchers across the United States are trying to better understand how to counsel parents in dealing with the diagnosis.

The new study is the first of its kind to look at the frequency and circumstances of food reactions after families were counseled on avoidance.  The researchers wanted to identify areas for improvement in parent education, as well as the specific reasons why children with known allergies were developing reactions.

Unlike most studies, which use surveys of allergic reactions, this research followed infants prospectively, or over the course of years.

"There really aren't a number of large studies that have reported reactions in a prospective way," Fleischer said.  "There also aren't a lot of studies looking at this very young age population."

What the researchers found was that most food exposures leading to allergic reactions were accidental, with milk, egg, and peanut being the most common culprits.  The majority of reactions were attributed to a lack of vigilance -- forgetting to check ingredients, for example -- but over half of these incidents occurred when food was being provided by caretakers other than parents.

Dr. Scott Sicherer, professor at Mount Sinai Hospital and co-author of the study said the study may serve as a wake-up call for some who care for food-allergic children.

"The bottom line is that you have to maintain a high level of vigilance," he said.  "That applies to the parents, but also to other people taking care of the child: grandparents, siblings, babysitters, teachers.  Basically everyone who is around the child needs to know about the allergy and understand what to do to keep the child safe."

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

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