Food Allergies Remain a Mystery. Why?
The rise in food allergies has been weighing on the health system for a couple decades now — with little understanding of where it came from and where it’s headed
During a grocery run long before the Covid-19 pandemic, Michael Pistiner, MD, a second-year pediatric allergy fellow at Children’s Hospital Boston, was standing in a Boston Whole Foods aisle basking in the glow of how darn cute his son Scott was. His three-and-a-half-year-old had just tasted a chocolate bar with walnuts for the first time and said, “That’s delicious!” It was such a big word. A nice moment for father and son.
As an allergist in training, Pistiner knew he was doing everything right, exposing his totally healthy child to a walnut at the American Academy of Pediatrics-recommended age. But then things took a turn. Scott started pulling at his tongue and saying that he couldn’t get the taste out. Pistiner said to his wife that their son could be having an allergic reaction even though it seemed absurd.
“Shut up,” his wife said, joking that his professional life was going to his head. Pistiner was dissuaded. He rationalized that it wasn’t serious. But by the time Scott began puking in the fish department, Pistiner knew his initial diagnosis was correct. Scott was rushed to the hospital where, indeed, he was having an anaphylactic reaction.
The Pistiner family’s experience has become common in the United States. What follows for many after a child’s severe food allergy attack is a lifetime of adaptation and compulsory readiness. According to a 2018 clinical study published in Pediatrics, 7.6% of American children have food allergies. That’s close to 6 million kids. Or, one in 13 children. Two in every classroom.
Everyone is now focused on the Covid-19 health crisis, as they should be, but there’s another affliction — the rise in food allergies — that’s been weighing on the health system for a couple of decades now with little understanding of where it came from and where it’s headed.