As food allergies among kids rise, Dell Children’s expands


Dell Children’s Medical Center of Central Texas is expanding its food allergy center. 

Doctors say food allergies among kids are on the rise. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the number of children diagnosed with food allergies has increased by 18 percent in the last decade.

Dell Children’s also launched the first clinical trials for food allergies in the area. Mason Hilliard, 7, was part of the study. He has a peanut allergy. 

“His first reaction to peanuts, he just had traces of peanut butter, and he got full body hives so I knew immediately he was allergic,” Audrey Hilliard said. “And then again at 2 years old he had another reaction.”

She explained that the study gradually exposed Mason to peanut protein. She also says she couldn’t believe that his reaction was less severe than before. “For him to actually be able to tolerate something that his body previously rejected was really exciting.”

Dr. Pooja Varsheny is the director of the food and allergy center and has worked closely with the family.

“They just wanna know if they have a bite of the wrong cupcake or the wrong cookie at a birthday party that they’re not going to have a severe reaction and so that’s what we’re trying to study … is to determine if these forms of gradually exposing the body to a food allergen can protect kids in these kind of circumstances.” 

Dr. Varshney said food allergies can impact two kids in each school classroom. It significantly impacts quality of life, similar to other chronic diseases like asthma and diabetes. She says the foods that can cause the most allergic reactions include:

  • Milk
  • Eggs
  • Peanuts
  • Tree Nuts
  • Soy
  • Fish
  • Shellfish
  • Wheat

“Sometimes reactions can be mild.  Other times they can be more severe,” Dr. Varsheny said. “Reactions don’t always become more severe with each time the child is exposed.”

She also pointed out that a positive allergy test does not always mean you are allergic.

The warning signs of an allergic reaction include:

  • Hives
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Swelling within minutes to no more than two hours after ingestion

Dr. Varsheny says a good time to talk about food allergies is with your child’s pediatrician at the four-month well-visit. Research shows that early introduction of things like peanuts may prevent the allergy.

How can seasonal allergies like mold and pollen have an impact on a child’s reaction to a food allerg? Dr. Varsheny says they don’t have a direct impact although if a child’s allergies or asthma are not well controlled, then a reaction to a food allergy can be that much more severe. She also says in older kids and adults there are some connections between pollen and fresh fruit and vegetable allergies.

Dell Children’s says trials are full right now, but the food allergy center is preparing for future studies.

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