May 8–14, 2011
Statement of Daniel Rotrosen, M.D., and Anthony S. Fauci, M.D.
National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases
National Institutes of Health
We observe Food Allergy Awareness Week this year acknowledging those who live every day with the concern that their exposure to certain foods may have the potential to trigger a life-threatening allergic reaction. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that food allergy affects 5 percent of children under the age of 5 and 4 percent of older children in the United States. Scientists believe that the percentage of adults with food allergy is similar to that observed in older children. Until we can better understand why food allergy develops in one person and not another, and find out how to prevent and possibly cure food allergy, research and education are two of the best tools to help people living with this disorder.
In this regard, we at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), part of the National Institutes of Health, were gratified to work with 34 professional organizations, patient advocacy groups and federal agencies to develop new national guidelines for the diagnosis and management of food allergy, published in December 2010. The Guidelines for the Diagnosis and Management of Food Allergy in the United States: Report of the NIAID-Sponsored Expert Panel reflect long-awaited agreement across medical specialties about what food allergy is and how to diagnose and treat it. This summer, NIAID will publish a summary of the key points for patients.
The most common food allergens affecting Americans are milk, egg, peanut, tree nuts, soy, wheat, fish and crustacean shellfish. Currently, there is no way to prevent or cure food allergy. Food-allergic people must avoid certain foods and constantly guard against accidental exposures to hidden food allergens. Available medications can treat symptoms—which range from itching to a life-threatening drop in blood pressure—but only after the allergic reaction to food occurs.
Food Allergy Awareness Week was established in 1997 by the Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network (FAAN), a patient and family advocacy and education organization. This year, the Food Allergy Initiative (FAI), another advocacy group, joins FAAN in recognizing the commemorative week. Both FAAN and FAI participated in the development of the food allergy guidelines.
As the lead NIH institute for food allergy research, NIAID supports basic research and clinical studies to better understand the causes of food allergy and develop new preventions and treatments. Many of these efforts focus on how the immune systems of people with food allergy might be modified to eliminate their allergic reactions to food. Other studies are examining food allergy-associated allergic diseases, such as eosinophilic esophagitis, a condition that occurs when eosinophils (a type of immune cell associated with allergic reactions) accumulate in the esophagus, and are studying how genes, the environment and other allergic diseases may affect the development, persistence and severity of food allergy.
In 2010, NIAID renewed funding for two programs in food allergy research: the Consortium for Food Allergy Research (CoFAR) and Exploratory Investigations in Food Allergy. CoFAR conducts laboratory and clinical studies to test promising immune interventions to prevent and treat the condition and to determine the role of genetic and environmental factors in causing food allergy. Currently CoFAR is evaluating possible ways to treat people with food allergies, such as peanut allergy, by exposing them to the food allergen delivered as a liquid placed under the tongue, as a suppository or as part of a specialized skin patch. Exploratory Investigations in Food Allergy, which started in 2008 and is co-funded by FAAN and FAI, supports projects to improve understanding of food allergy. Approximately 29 grants have been awarded through this initiative, 90 percent of which fund investigators new to the field of food allergy research.
During Food Allergy Awareness Week, we recognize the people who live with food allergy, and we thank the patients and families who have given their time to participate in food allergy clinical trials. Their involvement in clinical research has contributed to the development of improved ways to prevent and treat this condition so that all people affected by food allergy can enjoy a better quality of life.
For more information about food allergy, visit NIAID’s Food Allergy Web portal.
Dr. Fauci is Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland. Dr. Daniel Rotrosen is Director of the Division of Allergy, Immunology and Transplantation at NIAID.
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Last Updated May 02, 2011
Last Reviewed April 29, 2011