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New Washington State Law to Help Children with Food Allergies

It is with great happiness that I update an earlier blog posted several months ago with the news that patients with food allergies now have a law that helps them afford their treatment.  On Friday March 28th, Governor Jay Inslee signed a law that makes Washington the most recent state in the country to set a mandate for medical coverage of elemental formulas in the treatment of Eosinophilic GI disorders (EGIDs).  EGIDs are a severe form of gastrointestinal inflammation that results from food allergy. 


Infants with Milk Allergy

A 4 week-old infant and his mother came to my office last week.  The mother had started seeing small flecks of blood and stringy mucous in the infant’s diapers a week prior.  The baby was fine in every other way, breast feeding normally, and looked quite healthy when I examined him.

I diagnosed the infant as having cow’s milk protein-induced proctocolitis, the term referring to allergic inflammation of the lower gastrointestinal tract from exposure to cow’s milk. 

This is a diagnosis I make often. Here's what you should know about infants with milk allergies:

  1. It’s more common than you think. 2-3% of infants in the U.S. are allergic to cow’s milk protein. It is even more common in infants with eczema or who have parents or siblings with allergies.
  2. It’s seen in breast fed babies.  Over 50% of infants with this condition are breast milk-fed infants.  But remember, the babies are allergic to the dairy in their moms’ diets, not to their mothers’ breast milk per se!
  3. Switching to soy or goat’s milk doesn’t work.  Over two-thirds of infants with cow’s milk protein allergy “cross-react” to soy protein (which means that they may not be truly allergic to soy protein, but their immune systems are just too “immature” to know the difference between the two).  Similarly, if a mother switches from drinking cow’s milk to goat’s milk, it won’t help, because the source is still a “different species”; the infant’s immune system will still respond to the “foreign” protein.
  4. Treatment takes time. The inflammation resolves when all traces of cow’s milk (and soy), are  removed from the infant’s diet.  In the case of formula-fed infants, we switch to special hypoallergenic formulas.  Typically after a successful switch, the bleeding stops within a week.  However, with breast fed infants, the improvement can be a little slower.  Since it can take up to 2 weeks for the dairy in a mother’s diet to circulate into her breast milk, the full effects may not been seen for up to a couple weeks.
  5. Allergy testing is not recommended.  The type of allergy that ...

Food allergies and emergency epinephrine in Washington State schools

Food allergies have been on the rise in recent years.  Studies suggest that up to 1 in 13 children are affected by a food allergy.  Egg and cow’s milk are the most common food allergies for infants and toddlers.  Fortunately, most children will lose a milk or egg allergy by the time they enter school.  Peanut and tree nut allergies are also becoming more common.  Unfortunately, only 10-20% of children will ever outgrow a nut allergy.

Currently there is no cure for food allergies.  Instead, doctors rely on an accurate diagnosis, avoiding food triggers, and being prepared in the event of a severe reaction.  Making the situation more challenging, nearly half of children with a food allergy may be at risk for a potentially life-threatening reaction called anaphylaxis. 

Symptoms of anaphylaxis may include:

  • hives or itchy welts
  • swelling
  • vomiting or diarrhea
  • difficulty breathing (cough, wheeze or shortness of breath)
  • dizziness or passing out

During a severe food allergy reaction, epinephrine (“adrenaline”) can be a life-saving medication. Epinephrine is typically injected into a thigh muscle with an “auto-injector” device like EpiPen® or Auvi-Q™.  Oral antihistamines like Benadryl, Allegra, or Zyrtec can help with some anaphylaxis symptoms, but are not considered life-saving treatment.

Emergency Epinephrine in Schools

Until recently, only certain students in Washington State could receive a life-saving epinephrine injection while at school.  They needed to be diagnosed with a food allergy and already have an epinephrine injector in the health room.  However, some students may not have an injector at school, or they have their first serious allergic reaction while at school.  In that case, the school could only call 911 and hope they arrived in time to save a life.

In January 2013...

Advocating for Children with Severe Food Allergies

Eosinophilic Gastrointestinal Disorders (“EGIDs”) are a severe form of gastrointestinal inflammation that results from food allergy.  Children and adults in the U.S. are increasingly being diagnosed with this condition that unfortunately requires strict elimination diets, and many times, a life-long inability to eat foods that most of us take for granted each day, including dairy, wheat, soy, and eggs. 

For children requiring such restrictive diets, pediatric gastroenterologists like me work hard to find adequate alternate sources of nutrition.  For my patients with EGIDs, I often prescribe special “elemental formulas” as a treatment to both heal the intestinal inflammation and prevent further harm.  These formulas are completely allergen-free while meeting 100% of a child’s nutritional needs. 

However, in the state of Washington, most ....

Child’s Belly Discomfort Caused By Allergies

This is one of the most common questions that I get asked in the office. Allergic diseases are certainly becoming more and more prevalent in the developed world. General pediatricians and specialists are on ‘high-alert’ for this when evaluating a child that may be sick. Within the realm of intestinal diseases, however, a true allergy is actually not very common. To understand this, we must first understand what ‘allergy’ means.

An allergy is a biologic response from our body’s immune system. When our body senses a foreign invader, our army of immune cells attacks it. It does this by releasing chemicals into the blood stream and/or in to the organs where the threat may lie. Those chemicals are meant to destroy the invader, but often hurt our healthy organs as well. For example, airborn pollen may land in your eye, the immune system senses that pollen, releases those chemicals, and as a consequence we get itchy, puffy, watery eyes. The same thing can happen in the bowel if we ingest food that we are allergic to.

Intestinal manifestations of food allergies

One of the more common sites of an allergic response to food is in the esophagus—the food pipe. When the esophagus gets inflamed, it can manifest in a few different ways: heartburn symptoms, chest pain, chronic dry cough, upper abdominal pain, frequent regurgitation, or food that is stuck the chest. The name of this is Eosinophilic Esophagitis. Food allergies lower in the bowels can cause diarrhea, blood in the stool, abdominal pain, weight loss, anemia, and fatigue.

There are usually other red flags

One of the most important things to remember is ....

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