We’re the ‘allergy capital of the world’. But we don’t know why food allergies are so common in Australian children

Friday, May 31, 2024 - 8:00 AM

Food allergies The Conversation

Australia has often been called the “allergy capital of the world”.

An estimated one in ten Australian children develop a food allergy in their first 12 months of life. Research has previously suggested food allergies are more common in infants in Australia than infants living in Europe, the United States or Asia.

So why are food allergies so common in Australia? We don’t know exactly – but local researchers are making progress in understanding childhood allergies all the time.

What causes food allergies?

There are many different types of reactions to foods. When we refer to food allergies in this article, we’re talking about something called IgE-mediated food allergy. This type of allergy is caused by an immune response to a particular food.

Reactions can occur within minutes of eating the food and may include swelling of the face, lips or eyes, “hives” or welts on the skin, and vomiting. Signs of a severe allergic reaction (anaphylaxis) include difficulty breathing, swelling of the tongue, swelling in the throat, wheeze or persistent cough, difficulty talking or a hoarse voice, and persistent dizziness or collapse.

Recent results from Australia’s large, long-running food allergy study, HealthNuts, show one in ten one-year-olds have a food allergy, while around six in 100 children have a food allergy at age ten.

In Australia, the most common allergy-causing foods include eggs, peanuts, cow’s milk, shellfish (for example, prawn and lobster), fish, tree nuts (for example, walnuts and cashews), soybeans and wheat.

Allergies to foods like eggs, peanuts and cow’s milk often present for the first time in infancy, while allergies to fish and shellfish may be more common later in life. While most children will outgrow their allergies to eggs and milk, allergy to peanuts is more likely to be lifelong.

Findings from HealthNuts showed around three in ten children grew out of their peanut allergy by age six, compared to nine in ten children with an allergy to egg.

Read more in The Conversation by Associate Professor Jennifer Koplin, National Allergy Centre of Excellence (NACE) Evidence and Translation Pillar Lead, and Group Leader, Childhood Allergy & Epidemiology, Child Health Research Centre, The University of Queensland; and Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Child Health Research Centre, Faculty of Medicine, The University of Queensland.

Want to take part in food allergy research?

Visit the Allergy Studies Directory and receive email alerts when new studies are listed.


Become a CFAR member

Are you part of the Australian and New Zealand food allergy research community?

Join us

Thank you for your support