Allergies drive researchers nuts

Childhood allergy rates have hit "epidemic proportions" in Australia, prompting health experts to broaden their efforts to combat the mysterious condition.

Canberra-based allergy expert Dr Ray Mullins said 15,000 Australian children born this year would develop a potentially fatal food allergy before they reached school age.

Food allergies - particularly allergies to peanuts and tree nuts - were a growing problem with no known cause, and they now affected up to 6% of children aged under 3.

"This translates to 65,000 little kids," Dr Mullins said.

"It's a public health problem of epidemic proportions."

Dr Mullins, president of the Australian Society of Clinical Immunology and Allergy (ASCIA), points to a West Australia-based study that found about 80% of schools had at least one student at risk of a severe allergic reaction to food - anaphylaxis.

Dr Mullins said there were "lots of theories" about what was driving the nation's rising incidence of food allergy in children.

"Lots of work is being done to find reasons for the increase, and ways to intervene," he said.

ASCIA has launched a free online food allergy training course targeted at carers.


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