Almost two-thirds of Australian children outgrow food allergy, research shows

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Nearly two-thirds of children will outgrow their food allergy by their fourth birthday.

Kate Neville has spent much of her life worrying about severe food allergies, but the worrying eased a little after she grew out of egg and milk allergies at the age of 12.

Peanut, cashew and pistachio allergies persist, but for Ms Neville, the ability to enjoy eggs and milk has opened up a world of opportunities.

"I'd probably say that it doesn't really matter what you're allergic to, it will still impact your life in some way. So even just having one or two things less that you're allergic to, it's a huge relief and it definitely expands upon what you can enjoy and what you don't have to worry about," she said.

From left, Margaret Neville with daughter Amy and Kate (front) at a mother's day lunch in Wahroonga. Kate has suffered ...
From left, Margaret Neville with daughter Amy and Kate (front) at a mother's day lunch in Wahroonga. Kate has suffered severe allergies since she was a baby.  Photo: Michele Mossop

Nearly two-thirds of children will outgrow their food allergy by their fourth birthday, but Australian food allergy rates are still some of the highest in the world, new research shows. 

The prevalence of allergies was still sky-high among Australian children, with almost half of children surveyed experiencing some form of allergy before the age of four, found the population-based survey of 5276 children conducted by the Murdoch Children's Research Institute.

More than one in 10 one-year-olds (11 per cent) had a challenge-confirmed food allergy, the results published in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology on Monday showed. 

The prevalence of food allergy dropped to just 3.8 per cent among four-year-olds, the researchers reported. 

Children outgrowing egg allergy was the biggest driver of the decline, dropping from 9.5 per cent among one-year-olds to 1.2 per cent among four-year-olds. 

Peanut allergy fell from 3.1 per cent to 1.9 per cent, and was still the most prevalent food allergy among four-year-old children, according to the HealthyNuts survey data 


"Although the prevalence of food allergy decreases between ages one and four, the prevalence of any allergic disease among four-year-old children is still remarkably high," the study's lead author Rachel Peters said. 

The rate of food allergy recorded for one-year-olds was higher than international reports, earning Australia the unenviable title of "food allergy capital of the world", the researchers said. 

The results aligns with previous research suggesting about one in five children will outgrow peanut allergy and 80 per cent will develop tolerance to egg.



The survey also found 10.8 per cent of Australian four-year-olds have asthma, 16 per cent have eczema and 8.3 per cent have hayfever. 

"Overall, 40 to 50 per cent of this population-based cohort experienced symptoms of any allergic disease in the first four years of their life," Dr Peters said. 

Co-author Professor Katie Allen said there had been an increase of the prevalence of allergic diseases internationally, initially marked by a rise in asthma, eczema and hayfever, which peaked in the 1990s and 2000s. 

"This was followed by the second wave of the allergy epidemic with an increase in reported food allergies over the last two decades," Dr Allen said, noting allergy is now recognised as a significant public health concern. 

Ms Neville recalls having to take home-made birthday cake to parties as a child, the allergies preventing her from eating traditional cakes. 

"If I went to a little kid's birthday party, I could never eat the birthday cake, because they use eggs and milk. So my mum would make me a special cake to take with me to the party so I wouldn't feel left out.

"As soon as you break away one or two restrictions it opens up everything so much more. So I can happily eat a lot of cake these days."

Most Australians think allergy unnecessary 'fuss'

A Galaxy Research Poll commissioned by Allergy and Anaphylaxis Australia suggests 85 per cent of Australian adults do not know the signs and symptoms of a severe allergy reaction to food. 

The survey of 1000 Australians released on Sunday also found 69 per cent do not know how to help someone in an allergy emergency and 6 per cent said they would panic and hope someone else would know what to do. 

Many Australians believed there was a lot of unnecessary fuss about food allergy, with 56 per cent saying they thought patients were "over cautious" with what they ate.