"People should be aware that food allergy may really be increasing," Branum said. "If small children have symptoms when they eat a particular food, have that child checked out, particularly if they have co-occurring conditions like asthma and eczema."
"Food allergies are real," said Dr. Jennifer Appleyard, chief of allergy and immunology at St. John Hospital and Medical Center in Detroit. "And it appears that the prevalence is rising."
This will present various challenges, she noted. One is that there's already a shortage of allergy specialists in many areas, Appleyard said. Another is that schools will have to gear up to take care of additional children with food allergy to ensure their safety during the school day and on field trips, she said.
Parents who suspect their child has a food allergy should first talk with the child's primary care physician about symptoms. The problem could be a food intolerance rather than an allergy, she said, but the child might need to be tested by an allergy specialist to get a definitive diagnosis.
The Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Network has more on food allergies.
SOURCES: Amy Branum, M.S.P.H., health statistician, U.S. National Center for Health Statistics, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Hyattsville, Md.; Jennifer Appleyard, M.D., chief, allergy and immunology, St. John Hospital and Medical Center, Detroit; Nov. 16, 2009, Pediatrics, online