MummyPages.ie, Ireland’s leading online community of mums reveals shocking new statistics in relation to the growing number of children with food allergies and intolerances in Ireland.
In the biggest survey of its kind, MummyPages.ie examines the increasing number of families suffering with food allergies, the services available and the effects that they can have on children and their families. The results revealed that the Government needs to play a more pivotal role in improving the diagnosis, education and treatment of food allergies and intolerances in Ireland.
Deepening the investigation a complementary MummyPages.ie poll of pharmacists nationwide highlighted major concerns regarding:
1. The inconsistent supply of epinephrine pens, with faulty batches recalled earlier this year.
2. The short shelf life of epinephrine pens, many with only six to nine months left on the recommended 18-month shelf life.
3. Significant confusion among pharmacists as to whether or not they can dispense epinephrine pens, without prescription, in the event of an emergency.
Prevalence & Policy:
• 1 in 5 mums in Ireland have children with a food allergy or intolerance
• The most common food allergies and intolerances with children in Ireland are: Eggs (24%), Milk (22%) and Nuts (19%)
• 97% of mums want epinephrine pens to be made available in public areas
• 60% of schools have no food allergy policy in place, 96% of mums want the Government to make such policies mandatory for all schools
• 20% of mums have experienced difficulty in purchasing an epinephrine pen for their child due to supply shortages caused by recalled batches of faulty pens
• 12% of mums of have experienced their child going in anaphylactic shock
• 82% of mums are disatisfied with the paediatric allergy services available in Ireland
o 51% of children with food allergy-related symptoms have been medically tested by an allergy specialist
o 24% of mums have diagnosed their child’s food allergy or intolerance at home but are still waiting on an appointment
o 26% of mums were waiting over a year for an appointment for a food allergy test with 8% waiting over two years.
o 51% discovered their child’s allergy when their child suffered an immediate reaction to a new food or allergen but for 6% it was through anaphylactic shock
• 95% of mums report living with an allergy has changed their shopping habits, diet and lifestyles dramatically
o 70% of families choose to elimate the harmful food allergens from the household with the whole family adopting to a new diet
o 77% report that their shopping trips take twice as long since discovering a family member has a food allergy or intolerance
Commenting on the research, Laura Haugh, Mum-in-Residence for MummyPages.ie said; “This Halloween households should be aware of the growing number of children with food allergies in Ireland and be aware when giving out food to children who trick-or-treat. Not all children are supervised when collecting their treats and so the risk is higher for a child to unknowingly eat a food they shouldn’t. In America, the national food allergy association is recommending that households which offer non-food related treats for allergy sufferers display a teal blue pumpkin on their doorstep – a signal that children with food allergies can safely trick-or-treat there.”
The research by MummyPages.ie also reveals that 97% of mums want the government to make lifesaving epinephrine pens available in public places, such as schools and restaurants, in the event of an allergy sufferer experiencing anaphylactic shock. It also highlights the need for allergy policies to be introduced in every school throughout the country with 60% of schools yet to implement one to protect allergy sufferers. The majority or 96% of mums are calling the Government to implement better food safety policy and standards in schools.
Just over 1 in 10 of the MummyPages mums had experienced their child going into anaphylactic shock and had to administer the lifesaving shot of epinephrine which fights the symptoms of a severe allergic reaction.
According to the Pharmaceutical Society of Ireland (PSI), regulations introduced in 2003 allow pharmacists, in emergency circumstances, to supply prescription-only medicines, such as the life-saving epinephrine pen, without a prescription.
The number of children with food allergies or intolerance in Ireland is growing. 1 in 5 MummyPages families have a child who suffers from food allergies or intolerances and yet the lifesaving epinephrine pens have yet to be made readily available in public places in emergency situations.
However this isn’t the only issue facing allergy sufferers, Ireland is also facing a crisis when is comes to the availability of paediatric allergy care services. Worryingly, just over half of all children who are displaying food allergy-related symptoms have been medically tested by an allergy specialist, while an additional 25% are currently waiting for an appointment. Interestingly, 24% of mums have taken it upon themselves to diagnose their child’s allergy.
The comprehensive MummyPages research on allergy care services in Ireland indicates that 82% of mums are dissatisfied with the services available. A quarter of mums are waiting over a year for an appointment for their child and 8% waiting over two years for a food allergy and intolerance test. Half of all mums feel they didn’t receive adequate information from their GP on how best to deal with their child’s food allergy or intolerance and its diagnosis.
The majority of mums or 51% discovered their child’s allergy when their child suffered an immediate reaction to a new food or allergen. 43% of mums discovered their child has an allergy or intolerances when they experienced a period of general unwellness and 6% of mums became aware of their child’s allergy when their child experienced anaphylaxis. The most common symptoms associated with an allergy include swollen lips or tongue, tightening of the throat, difficulty breathing, wheezing, itchy skin, red blotches on skin, abdominal pain, bloating, vomiting and diarrhoea.
Laura Haugh, Mum-in-Residence for MummyPages.ie commented; “The long delays for mums trying to access paediatric allergy care services means that many mums are taking it upon themselves to diagnose their child’s allergy at home. Suspected food allergies and intolerances should always be evaluated, diagnosed, and treated by a qualified medical professional. Self-diagnosis can lead to unnecessary dietary restrictions and inadequate nutrition, especially in children.”
Heather Leeson, Nutritional Therapist with Glenville Nutrition agrees; “If you suspect that your child is reacting to a food or a number of foods it is very important to follow up and get advice from a doctor or nutritionist specialising in this area. In the case of a milder food intolerance where you suspect a reaction to a particular food, you could try removing the food for 2 weeks and then reintroducing it and monitoring the child’s symptoms over this period. This can also be good information to share with your GP or nutritionist when you get an appointment. However I strongly advise against long term dietary restrictions without getting professional advice.”
MummyPages.ie research also examined the psychological effects of food allergies with 30% of children reported as having self-esteem issues or lack confidence resulting from their food allergy. Children feel inferior to others as they can’t eat the same foods and may be excluded from birthday parties or school. Although, 84% of MummyPages mums report that older children living with a food allergy tend to be more mature due to the increased level of responsibility they face.
Families living with a food allergy sufferer has had a dramatic effect on households. MummyPages research reveals that 95% of mums living with an food allergy sufferer have drastically changed their shopping habits, diet and lifestyles. The majority or 70% of families chose to eliminate the harmful food allergens from the household with the whole family adopting to a new diet. Interestingly, 35% of families have had to stop eating out in restaurants as mums report that many restaurants are not accommodating to the culinary needs of their family
The majority or 80% mums tend to cook from scratch on a daily basis as they regard it to be a safer alternative to cooking with convenience foods. The majority or 77% report that their shopping trips take longer since they must read the product information on a large number of food items.
The majority or 95% of mums trust the information on the food labels which they check consistently for harmful allergens. The survey also reveals that 80% of those with a food allergy only bought trusted brands and had to supplement their main grocery shop with purchases from specialist food stores.
Heather from Glenville Nutrition concludes; “Being organised is essential in a household with a child with a food allergy or intolerance. Meal planning in advance can make cooking and shopping easier and cheaper. It can also be helpful to make a list of the replacement foods that can safely be eaten and build meal plans around these. For example, a child with a sensitivity to gluten can still eat potatoes, sweet potatoes, rice, buckwheat, quinoa and a range of other gluten free grains . There are also some very good ‘free-from’ products available, although it’s still important to check the label as some of these are highly processed and to be used more as treats than dietary staples.”