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Study: Siblings unlikely to share the same food allergies

While a sensitivity is common among siblings, doctors say children should not be labeled as allergic unless they've had a reaction to a food themselves.

By Stephen Feller
Study: Siblings unlikely to share the same food allergies
Just 13 percent of children shared a food allergy with their siblings, although many of them had a sensitivity to the same foods, researchers found in a new study. Photo by Smolina Marianna/Shutterstock

SAN ANTONIO, Nov. 5 (UPI) -- Although many parents are cautious about feeding any of their children an allergen if one shows a sensitivity to it, new research shows that just because one child is allergic to something doesn't mean siblings share the allergy.

Researchers in the new study, presented at the annual meeting of the American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology, said while just over half of children show a sensitivity to foods their siblings are allergic to, misdiagnosis of an allergy can have negative consequences.

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"The risk of food allergy in one sibling, based on the presence of food allergy in another, has never been completely clear," said Dr. Matthew Greenhawt, an allergist at the University of Michigan, in a press release. "This perceived risk is a common reason to seek 'screening' before introducing a high-risk allergen to siblings. But screening a child before introducing a high-risk allergen isn't recommended. Food allergy tests perform poorly in terms of being able to predict future risk in someone who has never eaten the food before. Our study showed that testing should be limited in order to help confirm a diagnosis, rather than as a sole predictor to make a diagnosis."

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The researchers worked with 1,120 children who have a sibling with a documented food allergy. Of the children, 53 percent had a food sensitivity, however only 13 percent had an actual food allergy. Allergies were confirmed using clinical histories of the children to see if there had previously been a reaction to food, as well as specific blood tests.

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Allergic reactions to food can include vomiting or cramps, hives, wheezing, tightness of the throat and feeling faint.

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The difference between a food sensitivity and a food allergy is often confused, according to Dr. James Li, a professor at the Mayo Clinic.

Food allergies cause a potentially life-threatening immune response, while a sensitivity may cause slight digestive problems. Small amounts of allergenic food generally do not cause trouble for children who only have a sensitivity, Li said.

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"More than half the kids in the study had a sensitivity to a food, but they weren't truly allergic," said Dr. Ruchi Gupta, a researcher at Northwestern University. "Kids who have a food sensitivity shouldn't be labeled as having a food allergy."

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