Interview - Amena Warner

Monday, July 10, 2017

Head of clinical services, Allergy UK

Reports suggest there has been a rise in childhood allergies…

We have seen a recent rise in childhood food allergy. In the UK it is generally accepted that 5-8 per cent of children have a food allergy.

However, at Allergy UK we have seen calls to our helpline rise for under-fives’ food allergies. This has led us to collect data, implement a project to try to address this trend and recruit an in-house allergy dietitian. We have more calls about food allergy than any other allergy, and this has been a trend for the past three years. So the actual prevalence may be much higher. We are also seeing allergic rhinitis (hayfever symptoms) in younger children. Asthma in children can also be triggered by allergy, and this needs prompt recognition and treatment.

Which food allergies are more common than others?

The most common food allergies in children are milk, egg, peanut, tree nut, soya, fish and sesame; however, we are also hearing about children being allergic to shellfish, kiwi and chickpeas. Cow’s milk protein allergy is now one of the most common childhood food allergies.  
 
What is the impact of the rise in allergies on settings and schools?

There may be children in nursery and school with allergy to a more common food or a rarer type of food; children may be allergic to more than one food and there are those who also have eczema and/or asthma. These can present challenges to schools and early years settings to keep these children safe and reduce the risk of a serious allergic reaction.

The most important thing is to identify who these at-risk children are, what it is they need to avoid, how that will be catered for, recognition of an allergic reaction, what medication is required and how to manage and treat it. This should all be covered in an Allergy Action Plan, or Care Plan.

There should be a policy on managing health conditions such as allergy, with clear procedures. All staff looking after children at risk of severe allergic reactions should ideally have training in recognising an allergic reaction and its management, as well as how and when to use an adrenaline auto injector, as this will be required in an acute emergency.
These occasions are exceptionally rare but can and do happen.

School meals should take into consideration those who have allergies, with menus made available to parents/carers with all ingredients. Treats of food should be avoided. Packed lunches may be the only option if a school cannot adequately cater for many allergic children. (Children also need to be taught not to swap packed lunch items.) The most important thing is for the child in the early years and school setting at risk of food allergy to be protected from serious allergic reaction without it impacting emotional well-being.

  • For more information on child food allergies click here

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