With dangerous food allergies on the rise in many developed countries, researchers around the world are busily investigating the extent of the problem facing both kids and adults, and a new study shows that the situation has only gotten worse in Australia since the turn of the century.
Researchers have investigated Australian hospitalisation rates for food-related allergy admissions between 1998 and 2012 to figure out whether adverse reactions to food were becoming more prevalent. They found hospital admissions for allergies increased significantly in this period, with anaphylactic reactions now more prevalent in older children and adolescents.
"We saw an overall 50 percent increase in anaphylaxis admissions, and between a 30 and 50 percent increase in most age groups", said Raymond Mullins of the University of Canberra, lead author of the research, in a statement.
Anaphylaxis is the most serious form of allergy, a potentially fatal reaction to foods and other kinds of triggers such as insect bites and stings. The reaction affects many part of the body, causing swelling, flushing, and shortness of breath, which in some cases can lead to death.
The research, which was a joint effort between the University of Canberra and the Murdoch Children's Research Institute in Australia, found that the highest rates of anaphylaxis-related hospital admissions involved very young children, but that the problem was accelerating for older adolescents.
"Importantly, although the highest rates were seen in children under five years of age, we noted that for older children aged five to 14 years, there was a 110 percent increase (more than doubling) in rates over this period, much greater than for other age groups," Mullins said. "Now one out of every 500 hospital admissions in this [five to 14] age group are to treat anaphylaxis. What was most interesting was that while the rate of increase is steady in most groups, we saw an acceleration in the rate of increase in this age group."
The implications of the research, published in The Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, present a complex dilemma for health authorities, with the potentially fatal condition threatening to affect a broader and shifting segment of young people. Older Australians are also at risk from the condition, with those aged 15 to 29 years old seeing a 1.5-fold increase in hospital admissions between 2005 and 2006 and 2011 and 2012, while people aged 30 and older experienced a 1.3-fold rise.
"The challenge for our healthcare system will be how we can try to prevent the development of new food allergy development in very young children, how best to care for the increasing numbers of new cases in younger children and how to manage the shifting burden of disease with the greatest increases in older teenagers and young adults," said Mullins.