The good news (with a little tiny ‘but’)

images-4OUR VERY wonderful allergist, Dr Robert Boyle, has just released some new findings that should make reassuring reading for parents of children with diagnosed food allergy.

After collating data from 13 studies worldwide, he and his research team at Imperial College London have calculated that for children and young people with a food allergy  aged 0-19, the chance of dying from anaphylaxis in any one year is 3.25 in a million.

To put that in context, in Europe the risk of being murdered is 11 in a million.

So, good news for those of us who fear the very worst. As “Dr Bob” puts it: “Everyone has heard stories of people who have died suddenly from a severe allergic reaction, and these stories are frightening. But events like this appear to be very rare, and it’s helpful to put that risk in perspective.”

But before we see headlines trumpeting those low risks, and no doubt hear people proclaiming our fears as parents to be wildly overstated, I think it’s important to make just one qualification aimed at those who don’t understand what it’s like to live with allergy.

While the figures are obviously hugely heartening, Dr Boyle himself is quick to note that the anxiety of keeping our children safe so they don’t become one of those 3.25 in a million can be overwhelming.

We know from having him as our doc how enormously empathetic and supportive he is, and how understanding he is of the daily battle we as food allergy parents face. In fact, he has been the lead in studies examining the impact of a food allergy diagnosis on maternal anxiety.

As he himself puts it in the Imperial news release: “We don’t want to belittle the concerns of people with food allergies or their families, and of course people should continue to take reasonable precautions. That said, we want to reassure them that having a food allergy makes a very small difference to someone’s overall risk of death.

“Worrying about severe allergic reactions can take a huge toll on someone’s quality of life. We should address anxiety and quality of life for food allergic people and their carers, rather than just focus on the risk of death.”

What I’m about to say next is not really aimed at those of us battling food allergy. It’s just a point worth passing on to those who might see the stats and think we are all overprotective parents careering off our rockers.

So: it’s worth noting that, while dying from anaphylaxis is thankfully rare, actually suffering an anaphylactic reaction is not so rare. Children’s hospital admissions for food allergy have increased by 600 per cent in the past two decades and the good news headline on this piece of research should not muddy the fact that any anaphylactic reaction for a child and its family is hugely distressing.

We don’t want our children to die, but nor do we want them to suffer. Death is the absolute worst case scenario but a reaction can still involve a raft of horrible symptoms, from all-over itchy hives to feelings of impending doom and panic, swelling of the face and airways, difficulty breathing, swallowing and speaking, severe asthma, abdominal pain and more, necessitating the stab of an EpiPen and urgent hospital treatment.

The last thing I want to do is to add a downbeat note to today’s news, and those of us who tackle food allergy day in, day out, know what I’m saying only too well.

It’s just a little plea to people who don’t have children with food allergies – please don’t jump on the back of the research and use it as justification for claiming our fears are unfounded.


See here for the full news release

3 thoughts on “The good news (with a little tiny ‘but’)

  1. Actually, I read about this study and had the same reaction – it’s not exactly comforting to those with food allergies. And the comparison of fatal food anaphylaxis to murder *did* seem a little extreme. This story got me thinking, and I shared my thoughts on my own blog: Curious to see what you think.

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