During a summer course from the Menéndez Pelayo International University (UIMP) in Santander, Elena Molina, from the Food Science Research Institute (CSIC), has warned that allergic children “suffer in a very clear way and are stigmatized”. The problem becomes evident when they are separated at school and do not eat with the rest of their classmates, when their social life is restricted because they are the object of jokes in bad taste, they are harassed, they are not invited to birthdays even by their parents ( out of fear), and they have pictures of anxiety about going to new places or restaurants.
Patients do everything possible to avoid a series of actions that can save their lives, such as going to the hospital or getting an adrenaline injection, due to the social stress they suffer, especially during adolescence. These circumstances can lead to school absenteeism, either due to the failure of the canteens or due to harassment derived from their allergies: “Many cases of bullying and harassment are taking place,” explained Molina, while highlighting anxiety and stress what it means for parents to have an allergic child: “Being exposed to your child having a reaction causes up to 90% of parents to go to therapy to overcome it.”
Food allergies affect 2% of adults and 5 to 8% of children under 14 years of age. “We are urbanizing, and that means fewer infections, parasites, living with animals, and greater use of antibiotics. The figures are overwhelming and represent a challenge for public health and for research,” he said. Daniel Lozano, immunologist from Mount Sinai Hospital in New York, another of the experts who participated in the meeting.
This course has addressed the different prisms of the current situation in the face of the exponential increase in the prevalence of food allergies and, therefore, speakers from different specialties have come together to offer their points of view from the clinical, technological and basic research aspects.
Lozano pointed out that, since 2010, food allergies have increased by around 60%, and the main hypothesis is that of hygiene, based on the fact that urban environments excessively protect new generations with excessive hygiene. . This affects the development of immune responses against elements that should be everyday, such as food proteins: “Being in such a ‘bubble’ environment, immune reactions are developing against proteins that should be harmless.”
According to Dr. Molina, food allergies begin to develop after the age of three and, in the coming years, it will be known whether the generation of the pandemic has been affected in the development of this disease. In addition, different studies indicate that the early introduction of peanuts, eggs and milk, between four and six months of babies, induces tolerance to these foods. The current objective of the researchers is to know if this is the same for the rest of the allergenic foods. For now, the guidelines have already changed and pediatricians and allergists are advising to introduce allergens that can induce tolerance as soon as possible, according to the researcher.
The most traditional diet, the most modern, or the introduction of new foods, can trigger allergies. Also genetically modified foods. “Any food can cause allergies and any modification that occurs in it can also, whether due to processing, digestion, or the way we combine with new foods,” added Molina.
Food allergies do not have any treatment and this course intends that different professionals, together, can address a solution. “We need definitive treatments that allow us to save on public health, because a patient allergic to a food will probably be allergic for life, and that means going to the Spanish health system and consultations,” explained Lozano. In this sense, she has recalled that in addition to the medical expense involved in going to the hospital, most allergies occur in children and parents have to miss work due to the length and tediousness of the processes.