What exactly is an allergy?
Jared, 9, is allergic to grass, pollen, dust, mold, peanuts and tree nuts. His mother travels with an “epi pen” in her purse and a ready supply of Benadryl in case he comes in contact with any of his allergy triggers. And both she and her son are counting down the days until Jared’s yearlong allergy shot treatment finishes.
“He’s a trouper,” says his mom, Valerie Novack.
Rise in Allergies
Think you’ve been hearing more about kids with allergies lately? It’s no illusion; there really are more allergies among children today, with the overall incidence – whether of the classic runny-nose, itchy eyes rhinitis kind or of food allergies – having risen significantly in the past 20 years.
“Allergies are definitely more prevalent today,” confirms Marc Rothenberg, M.D., Ph.D., section chief of Allergy and Clinical Immunology at Children’s Hospital Medical Center of Cincinnati. In fact, the past five decades have seen tremendous growth in the incidence of all immune-based diseases, with allergies and asthma very much “the tip of the iceberg,” Dr. Rothenberg says.
For instance, allergic dermatitis (itchy rash) is the most common skin condition in children under 11, with 10 percent of children diagnosed with it in the 1990s, compared to just 3 percent in the 1960s. Additionally, about 8 percent of American children – about 2 million – have food allergies today; just 2 percent of adults are affected, suggesting the incidence, as a percentage of the population, has increased. Allergic rhinitis affects up to 40 percent of
Another perspective on how much the incidence has grown comes from pediatric allergist Gail Shapiro, M.D., who has been practicing for more than 30 years and recalls the time when she had first finished her medical training and began job hunting.
“I remember meeting with a famous professor of pediatrics and he said he didn’t think they needed an allergist because they never hospitalized children for asthma,” says Dr. Shapiro, who is now a clinical professor. Today, asthma – a complication of allergies – is one of the most common reasons for hospitalization among children, with about a half million children hospitalized each year for the disease, and 2 million seen in emergency rooms.
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