Remember when peanut butter sandwiches were a child’s lunchtime staple and peanuts were served as a snack on flights? If you’re wondering what’s behind the recent crackdown on peanuts in schools and airplanes, it’s because both food and skin allergies have risen sharply over the past few years. According to a study by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) in 2013, food allergies increased in children under age 18 from 3.4 percent in 1997 to 5.1 percent in 2011, while skin allergies rose from 7.4 percent to 12.5 percent.
These statistics, representing a 50 percent jump in food allergies and a 69 percent increase in skin allergies, are causing alarm in the medical community. But what may be more alarming is the fact that scientists don’t know why allergies are on the rise.
Knowing that allergies are always due to a combination of genetic and environmental factors, scientists theorize that one possible cause for the rise in allergies could be that kids are growing up in homes that are too clean, thanks to the use of anti-bacterial cleaning solutions. Not being exposed to certain bacteria could potentially cause a child’s immune system to be weakened and more susceptible to allergens.
One clue uncovered through the CDC study of allergies, however, is the finding that the prevalence of allergies increases with income level. While researchers don’t yet know the significance of this detail, identifying the differences between the diets and environments of children from low and high income families could possibly explain what’s behind this allergy epidemic.
Food allergies are particularly dangerous because of the potential for anaphylaxis – the body’s extreme response to an allergen in which the airways may become swollen and make it difficult to breathe. Skin allergies, like eczema and other rashes, increase a child’s chance of developing respiratory conditions like asthma later in life.
Do you have a child with food or skin allergies? Tell us how it affects your child’s life below.