4 Your Health: Study says early introduction is key to getting rid of food allergies

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INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – It's estimated that nearly 1 out of every 13 kids has a food allergy. That means, the foods many of us eat kids with food allergies can't try or even go near!

New research though suggests exposing kids to the very foods that can make them sick might be the best way to get rid of that food allergy.

"It’s milk, eggs, wheat, nuts and tree nuts," explains mom Jessica Conrad.

There's a long list of foods banned from the Conrad household in Carmel. While parents Jessica and Matt do not have food allergies, their children, Tommy and twins Kate and Elyse, do.

The parents first noticed eczema on the children's skin, which is a food allergy red flag.

"When Tommy was this age, we gave him baby yogurt. He didn’t want it.  He was nothing but one big hive," says mother Jessica Conrad.

Adds father Matt, "There are different levels of worry with food allergies. That is what it is. It’s always in the back of your mind."

Dr. Mark Holbreich with Allergy and Asthma Consultants in Indianapolis says the most common food allergies are peanut, egg, milk and some tree nuts. The allergist says it is best to introduce these foods to your children well before their first birthday.

"Food allergies are becoming more common in children particularly. It is when your body reacts to a food protein as something foreign, like a bee sting or pollen. Your body has an allergic reaction.   Generally, the earlier you introduce foods the better it is," says Holbreich.

In fact, a new landmark study released in Europe last year showed a "carefully supervised" introduction of peanuts to high risk children reduced their risk by 80 to 90 percent.

"The important thing about this study is that parents that have a child with food allergy and planning to have another or are pregnant or a young infant is showing signs of eczema which is dry scaly skin or eaten egg and have hives, they need to be evaluated," explains Holbreich.

The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease will be publishing official new guidelines in January as to how early parents can introduce peanuts to children. For high-risk kids, it could be as early as four months.

The early introduction trial did confirm that the Conrad twins are allergic to peanuts, just like their older brother. It's good information because blood tests aren't always accurate.

"We gave them spoonfuls of peanut butter and crossed our fingers. You go in and you are feeding them the food that they are deathly allergic to. It is scary!" says Jessica.

Long term, the Conrads hope their children grow out of their food allergies, but Holbreich said only 10 percent of kids will outgrow a peanut allergy.

"Our message we give families is your children should not be identified by their food allergies. When you spend your life avoiding food, it takes away from the pleasures of life. We want them to enjoy their life and have a safe life," says Holbreich.

Earlier this month, a new study published by the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology showed a tiny skin patch may help treat peanut allergies. The patches were most effective for kids ages 4 to 11 with peanut allergies. More research is needed.

If you think your child is suffering from a food allergy, it's best to see an allergist right away because early introduction is key to getting rid of food allergies.

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