By Kristen Chandler
It has been a commonly held belief that if you have one child with food allergies, their siblings are likely to have food allergies as well. This has led some parents to avoid allergen exposure in siblings of food allergic kids and even to have them tested for food allergies.
I have three children. My oldest is severely allergic to eggs, milk and beef. He also tested positive for shellfish and peanuts at his first test but, two years later, had outgrown these allergies.
When my second child was born, I was very cautious. My daughter was unable to drink milk- or soy-based formula because both gave her severe reflux. After she turned a year old, she didn’t have a reaction to any of “The Big Eight” when they were introduced into her diet. However, when she was a toddler, she began breaking out in hives when eating various foods, and we later discovered she was allergic to vinegar.
My youngest drank breast milk exclusively until she was about six months old and showed no signs of allergies until she too was a toddler. We discovered she was allergic to cinnamon, but she recently outgrew that allergy.
Like many other parents, I too believed that if I had one child with severe allergies, there was a strong possibility my other kids would have them, also. And while I didn’t eliminate certain foods from their diets, I did delay introducing my kids to the most common food allergens. I didn’t consider having them tested unless or until they showed symptoms of an allergic reaction. So, I did end up with all three children having allergies, but each is allergic to different things and only one has severe allergies.
However, results from a recent study show that food allergies may not necessarily be hereditary.
The Study: Details and Results
In a study of 1,120 food allergic children conducted at the Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago, all of the participants had at least one biological sibling. Extensive interviews as well as IgE blood tests and skin prick tests were conducted to determine the presence of food allergies.
The results determined that the risk of the sibling of a food allergic child developing food allergies themselves is only slightly higher than that of the general population. The researchers additionally observed that while testing may show a sensitization to a specific allergen in a child who has never had that allergen, the results did not mean that eating that food would cause the child to have an allergic reaction.
The study concluded that 53 percent of siblings of food allergic children did not have food allergy symptoms themselves but did display sensitization during the testing process. Furthermore, one third of the siblings who were tested had a negative result with no reaction at all. Of the siblings tested, only 13.6 percent had an actual food allergy.
Results of this study are also consistent with the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases guidelines, which advocate against screening siblings of food allergic children before they are introduced to the particular food. The guidelines also suggest that avoidance of specific foods in siblings who have had no exposure or allergic reaction could not only lead to poor nutrition but also increase the risk of these kids actually developing a food allergy.
In conclusion, just because you have one food allergic child does not mean that your other children have a higher risk of having food allergies themselves.
Please note: This article was written based on research of results from a scientific study as well as my personal experience with food allergies. It does not serve as medical advice. If you have any questions or concerns, you should consult your child’s physician and/or allergist.