Victorian children requiring emergency care for symptoms of food allergy almost doubled (44 per cent) in 10 years from 2005 to 2015, a study by The Royal Children’s Hospital (RCH) and Murdoch Children’s Research Institute has shown.
Published in the Medical Journal of Australia today, the research highlights presentations of food allergy increasing in Emergency Departments, especially in babies and young children aged zero to four-years-old, who represent approximately half of these presentations.
Lead researcher and Director of the RCH Health Services Research Unit, Professor Harriet Hiscock, said the data collected from Victorian Emergency Departments also revealed cases are increasingly being treated as more urgent by emergency staff.
“The results suggest the cases of food allergy we are seeing in our emergency departments are becoming more serious, however we don’t have the answers yet for why that is,” Professor Hiscock said.
“It’s concerning that family’s feel they need to present to Emergency. Parents should not hesitate to seek emergency treatment for a serious reaction, however for milder cases, they can be confident that management in the primary care setting through a GP is most appropriate.”
While the reasons for the increase are unclear, the study showed place of residency is an important factor, with metro presentations increasing by 78 per cent while the rate in rural areas grew by only 30 per cent with population growth accounted for.
“Melbourne has some of the highest rates of food allergy in the world, and surprisingly we found emergency presentations have increased particularly in north-west Melbourne. We could attribute that to fewer allergy services currently available in the north-west,” Professor Hiscock said.
“We also noted presentations to metropolitan hospitals increasing more rapidly than rural presentations, which correlates with the ‘hygiene hypothesis’ or the idea that some environments can provide protective factors.
“For example, a rural location where children are exposed to farms and animals may provide those protective factors which we don’t get in a clean, sterile environment, and may mean fewer allergies for children in the first place.”
Professor Hiscock said through additional training for community-based paediatricians, access to care could be improved.
“We need to look at new ways of delivering services through trained community paediatricians so that families can reach a diagnosis for their children sooner and have the appropriate management plans in place to avoid the need for urgent care,” she said.
“We have already developed and tested a food allergy training program for community paediatricians and this could be rolled out more widely.
“The key message for parents is to visit your GP if you’re worried about an allergy in your child. It’s also important that parents are educated to recognise the signs of an allergic reaction so care and treatment can be provided in the early stages.”