AUSTIN (KXAN) — The Food Allergy Center at Dell Children’s Medical Center of Central Texas is expanding to keep up with the growing number of Austin area children living with food allergies.
Dr. Pooja Varshney, a member of the Pediatric Allergy, Asthma & Immunology department at the hospital, says she sees hundreds of children a month with some sort of food allergy.
“We think in recent years the prevalence has doubled, it now affects approximately one in 12 kids,” she said. “That’s two kids in each classroom on average.”
The most common food allergies in children are milk, egg and peanut allergies, according to Varshney. While the doctor says some kids may outgrow certain allergic reactions to foods like milk and egg, others are less commonly outgrown including peanut, tree nuts or seafood.
The expanded Food Allergy Center will have more exam space as well as a ‘food allergy kitchen’ where researchers can prepare food to use in local clinical trials, which Varshney says is also expanding.
“I think that is so exciting because we have been able to bring clinical trials to the community and offer that opportunity to our patients to really be part of cutting edge research and study some of those new exciting treatments that may become part of what we offer to kids with food allergies,” she said.
Most of the current experiments focus on desensitization.
“That is the idea, that with treatment we can reduce the risk of severe allergic reaction to food, so to desensitize the immune system,” she said, adding it could help parents stress less.
“What we hear from our families is that they may not want their child to eat a peanut butter and jelly sandwich but they want the peace of mind that if they accidentally have a bite of something at a birthday party or a restaurant they are not going to end up in the E.R.,” she said.
The Clinic is the only children’s allergy clinic in Central Texas nationally recognized by the Food Allergy Research and Education. Building community confidence is another focus of the growing Center. A pediatric psychologist is on board to help patients with the emotional impact of living with food allergies.
“We know approximately one in every three kids with food allergies is bullied and that’s one way food allergies impacts their emotional well being and we want to be able to care for that,” Varshney said.
You can get more information the expanded Allergy, Asthma and Immunology wing at the hospital on their website.