HAMPTON ROADS, Va. (WAVY) — If you’re a parent, chances are your child shares a classroom with someone affected by food allergies. It can be life-altering and stress inducing.

One in 10 adults and one in 13 children have a food allergy. It can strike fear in the hearts of parents with children who can have a possibly fatal reaction.

“The impact that food allergy has on the quality of life is very significant,” said CHKD Pediatric Allergist and Immunologist Dr. Angela Hogan.

Hogan cites what’s known as the “Dual Hypothesis Theory” as a reason why allergies form.

“If allergies are presented through the skin, like in kids who have Eczema, they would have more significant exposure,” Hogan said. “Then, that might lead to more sensitization or development of allergies. And if the allergens are presented through the gut, then that particular route of presentation, we think, is more protected or tolerizing.”

Meaning, as an infant, the gut is not as picky about what is being consumed, whereas if an opening in the skin meets an allergen, alarms go off. Hogan said the environment, and the bacteria on the skin and in the gut is changing. That’s due to lack of Vitamin D, pollution, cigarette smoke — even taking multiple rounds of antibiotics.

“We know a lot of moms who have antibiotics during pregnancy, or even moms who have antibiotics during delivery, it actually shifts their bacterial patterns, what we call a microbiome,” Hogan said.

In 2000, the American Academy of Pediatrics told mothers not to introduce certain allergens to their child until later in life, sometimes not until three years of age. Hogan feels that may have been a mistake, as most food allergies develop in the first 12 months of life.

“It wasn’t really based on a lot of good science,” Hogan said.

The American Academy of Pediatrics changed their recommendations in 2008 citing that there wasn’t convincing evidence to show that delaying exposure past four to six months was protective against allergy, according to the National Library of Medicine.

Corinne Settelen, a registered Dietician said studies support earlier food exposure.

“Newer research is recommending that early and routine food introduction may actually reduce the risk of food allergies later on,” Settelen said.

They now recommend giving infants eggs and peanuts between four and six months.

“When the gut is still sleepy and doesn’t really mind what’s around, is an important time to introduce those proteins,” Settelen said.

It’s important to also know the difference between a food allergy and a food intolerance. Intolerance affects the digestive system, but an allergy has more severe symptoms.

“The most severe obviously being anaphylaxis. Less severe, I see hives, difficulty breathing, difficulty swallowing,” Settelen said.

School systems in the area are doing their best to stay on top of allergies. Northside Middle School in Norfolk has a list of common allergens found in their menu items. Virginia Beach’s website has a link on how to use an EpiPen.

“The statistics from 2021 tell us there are 20 million Americans that have food allergies,” Hogan said. “And in 2021, there were only seven fatalities. In the entire country. Seven fatalities out of 20 million Americans. But all seven of them did not have auto injectable epinephrine.”

Virginia state law requires all public schools to have auto injectable epinephrine available for any child who may need it.

For a look at Northside’s website on allergens in menu items, click here.

To read Norfolk Public School System’s overview on nutrition, click here.

If you or your child has a food allergy, check out the Coastal Food Allergy Support website here.

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