Food allergy in infancy linked to childhood asthma and reduced lung function

Wednesday, August 9, 2023 - 12:00 PM

Associate Professor Rachel PetersHaving a food allergy as a baby is linked to asthma and reduced lung function later in childhood, according to a world first study.

The research, published in the Lancet Child & Adolescent Health, found that early life food allergy was associated with an increased risk of both asthma and reduced lung growth at six years of age.

Centre for Food Allergy Research Associate Investigator Associate Professor Rachel Peters, said this was the first study to examine the relationship between challenge-confirmed food allergy in infancy and asthma and poorer lung health later in childhood.

The Melbourne study involved 5276 infants from the HealthNuts study, who underwent skin prick testing to common food allergens, including peanut and egg and oral food challenges to test for food allergy. At six years, children were followed up with further food allergy and lung function tests.

The study found by six years of age, 13.7 per cent reported a diagnosis of asthma. Babies with a food allergy were almost four times more likely to develop asthma at six years of age, compared to children without a food allergy. The impact was greatest in children whose food allergy persisted to age six as opposed to those who had outgrown their allergy. Children with a food allergy were also more likely to have reduced lung function.

Associate Professor Peters, who is a member of the NACE Food Allergy Stream Advisory Group, said food allergy in infancy, whether it resolved or not, was linked to poorer respiratory outcomes in children.

“This association is concerning given reduced lung growth in childhood is associated with health problems in adulthood including respiratory and heart conditions,” she said.

“Lung development is related to a child’s height and weight and children with a food allergy can be shorter and lighter compared to their peers without an allergy. This could explain the link between food allergy and lung function. There are also similar immune responses involved in the development of both food allergy and asthma.

“The growth of infants with food allergy should be monitored. We encourage children who are avoiding foods because of their allergy to be under the care of a dietician so that nutrition can be catered for to ensure healthy growth.”

Read more at Murdoch Children's Research Institute.

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