Updated 31 May 2017

Childhood allergies affected by race, genetics

Early study found black toddlers more sensitive than whites to food allergens in particular.

Race and possibly genetics play a role in childhood allergies, according to a new study.

Researchers at the Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit skin-tested more than 500 children, all of whom were two years old, for three food allergens - egg whites, peanuts and milk - and seven environmental allergens.

The tests showed that about 20% of black children and 6.5% of white children were sensitised to a food allergen, while nearly 14% of black children and 11% of white children were sensitised to an environmental allergen.

Black children with an allergic parent were sensitised to an environmental allergen about two and a half times more often than black children without an allergic parent, according to the study.

Sensitisation means that a person's immune system produces a specific antibody to an allergy - not that a person will experience allergy symptoms, the researchers pointed out.

"Our findings suggest that African-Americans may have a gene making them more susceptible to food allergen sensitisation or the sensitisation is just more prevalent in African-American children than white children at age 2," allergist and study lead author Dr Haejim Kim said in a Henry Ford Health System news release.

"More research is needed to further look at the development of allergy," Kim added.

Studies presented at medical meetings should be viewed as preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal.

More information

The American Academy of Family Physicians has more about food allergies.


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Dr Morris is the Principal Allergist at the Cape Town and Johannesburg Allergy Clinics with postgraduate diplomas in Allergology, Dermatology, Paediatrics and Family Medicine dealing with both adult and childhood allergies.

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