Food Allergy Week (23 - 29 May)

It’s Food Allergy Week - a week which helps increase awareness of food allergy in an effort to promote understanding, and ultimately help to protect those at risk.

Allergic diseases are an increasingly important chronic disease and public health issue in Australia and other developed countries, especially over the last two decades. This is leading to an increased demand for medical services and costs of care. It is also associated with a reduced quality of life for people with allergic diseases and their families.

What is allergic disease?

Allergic diseases occur when a person’s immune system reacts to substances that are normally harmless to most people. These substances or ‘allergens’ can be found in foods, particles such as dust mites & pollens, insect venoms, and drugs.

Allergic diseases include allergies to food and life threatening anaphylaxis, asthma, allergic rhinitis (hay fever) and eczema. Many of these are increasing in prevalence, complexity and severity.

Most food allergies are caused by eight foods: cow's milk, eggs, tree nuts, peanuts, shellfish, fish, soy and wheat. Unlike food intolerances, food allergies are caused by your immune system incorrectly identifying some of the proteins in food as harmful.

The rise of allergic disease

  • Almost one fifth of the Australia population has a confirmed allergic disease (over 4.5 million Australians!). This number continues to increase over time. 
  • Hospital admissions for anaphylaxis have increased five-fold in the last 20 years, the majority of this increase being food induced.
  • Recent research had identified that 10% of infants have an immediate food allergy.
  • Conditions related to allergy such as food protein induced enterocolitis syndrome (FPIES) and eosinophilic oesophagitis (EoE) are increasing.

What steps can an individual take to prevent food allergy?

Although there are no clear guidelines on how to prevent food allergy, the following infant feeding advice is provided by ‘Australasian Society of Clinical Immunology and Allergy’ (ASCIA):

  • Breastfeed for at least  6 months
  • Do not restrict foods eaten during pregnancy to prevent a food allergy. There is no evidence that this is necessary. Such restrictions can adversely affect growth in baby and is not recommended
  • Continue to breastfeed whilst introducing solid foods from 4 to 6 months, when the infant is ready
  • Do not use alternative/unorthodox practitioners for advice which is not evidence-based and can results in unnecessary dietary restrictions. Always consult with an Accredited Practising Dietitian
  • Do not smoke during pregnancy and avoid exposure to tobacco smoke in the home.

The National Allergy Strategy

The National Allergy Strategy was put together to help ensure planning of services and delivery of care for the management of allergic diseases in Australia takes a coordinated and evidence-based approach. This strategy aims to provide an effective and coordinated plan to guide future actions to optimise the management of allergic diseases in Australia. Great news for everyone affected by allergic disease!

The main themes of the strategy are around:

1.   Improved access to care. People with allergic diseases should be able to access quality care by trained health professionals. Patients need to be referred for assessment by a clinical immunology or allergy specialist who can accurately diagnose, educate and initiate best practice management including referral to allergy dietitian. 

2.   Standards of care. There is a goal to improve the inconsistencies in the prevention and management of allergic disease. It is planned that this is done specifically via increased allergy and anaphylaxis management, staff education and policies in schools and childcare. 

3.   Education and training. Improve the education in the recognition, diagnosis and management of allergic diseases. There are many gaps in knowledge in medical, nursing and allied health professionals. 

4.   Allergy research. Research for treatments, drug developments, health outcomes are important areas that require more resourcing 

5.   Health policy and guideline. This guideline encompasses national recommendations which impact on breastfeeding guidelines and introduction of solids, infant feeding and dietary guidelines, school and childcare policy, food service industry training and awareness and hospital procedures for all of Australia.

For more information on food-related allergy and anaphylaxis, please book a FREE appointment at the UQ Nutrition and Dietetics Clinic.

Author: Associate Professor Shelley Wilkinson and Clare Kreis (Full Circle Nutrition)

Last updated:
26 May 2021