TODAY   |  February 17, 2014

What you need to know about food allergies

Between 1997 and 2011, food allergies in children rose about 50 percent. Pediatrics professor Scott H. Sicherer and NBC News Health and Diet Editor Madelyn Fernstrom present everything you need to know about food allergies.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> a food allergy . if you're the parent of one, it can be scary and frustrating.

>> as many as 8% of children in the u.s. suffer from them. if that doesn't sound like a lot, how about this, food allergies in kids increased 50% in recent years.

>> we want to find out why. here with what parents need to know is dr. scott h. fisher, professor of pediatrics at mt. sinai in new york and author of

"food allergies: a cleomplete guide to eating when your life depends on it".

>> and he's here is with madelyn fernstrom.

>> what i would like to know and hoda too, when i was growing up, nobody had food allergies or at least we didn't know it. nobody talked about it. what's happened?

>> our own studies show that tripling in peanut allergy in children, more than 1% of children with a peanut allergy . there is lots of theories. short answer is we don't exactly know. it is obviously the environment, our clean living, our immune system , is it attacking things like foods it doesn't need to attack.

>> what do you think?

>> part of the problem is you're going where is all this coming from? we're like super clean. hygiene hypothesis , we're not allowing our bodies to develop a strong immune response because we're hyper clean, you don't keep your kids around places, you are doing all these things to keep antibacterial soaps so we're not fighting this. because the food supply changed, a lot of processed stuff, things added in. another theory is maybe our bodies are just seeing this differently and we're not really directing our immune system to really develop the way that they should be. this is -- but there is no -- there is always some theory.

>> is there a lot of research being done about it so some day we'll know?

>> guidelines have changed. many years ago people said don't even eat if you're at risk for allergies, don't ease these highly allergenic foods until the child is 2 or 3 years old. we learned it is actually probably better to let the child eat unless they have allergies.

>> yeah.

>> at what point should you introduce that to your child ?

>> practically speaking that's going to be a choking hazard . there is no more limitation to wait to an age of 3 for a child with allergies. it is okay to introduce as long as they don't choke on it earlier than that, as long as there is no other signs of allergy in a child .

>> they need teeth to chew.

>> people are so afraid of feeding their kids. instead of that six months, one year, 18 months guidelines you get from your pediatrician, people are holding on to several years of age. and that's not good either.

>> the bottom line is that a healthy diet is what the studies are now showing is most helpful to reduce allergies.

>> how much research do we have to do before we --

>> we know that.

>> and watching your child . we look at top a or sometimes nine -- the idea is look at your child . you're not allergic to everything. you may have a genetic predisposition. if you have an allergy or asthma or skin irritations, these can be inherited. but don't be crazy about this and say, look at things. don't have a list of eight allergen things.

>> if your mild is allergic, there is a fear you should give him or her a little of it at the time.

>> be careful about that. the good news is that there are some treatments that we're looking at. desensitizati desensitization, giving a small amount it still experimental. we see pitfalls. people have allergic reactions .

>> this is not to do at home. this is not somebody who got a little bit of hives from something. it is to help a child from hidden sources of things because you want to make sure they're not going to have --

>> peanut oil is in so many different things.

>> epipen .

>> right now, the problem is you have to avoid the food and treat if there is a problem. our studies are hopefully going to find better ways to treat this. and people can look at clinical to look at studies on therapies which would be great. but right now, if someone has a severe allergic reaction , they take the self-injector of epinephrine, it reverses the severe symptoms like troubled breathing. we have a generic version, called an avi-q and epipen . if someone is having more than mild symptoms, the epipen has a lock on the back, now it is unlocked, pressed into the part of the leg, you heard it click, it is a trainer. count to ten and take it away and this opens up.

>> let's move on and talk about snacks that kids go to birthday parties, stuff going on, they run into stuff.

>> part of the problem is you can't make your child feel isolated. and everyone knows, you're the kid with the food allergy . so fruits and vegetables are always a go-to. have some things to dip it in. you can have anything like black bean dip or something like hummus but be careful and know what the child is allergic to. it can have sesame seeds . it can be a nut better like sunflower butter can be a great alternate to peanut butter and hummus for dipping so your kid feels like they're part of the same -- and the other children can eat that as well. most people want packaged snacks, not taking fruits and vegetables. there is fruit leathers or applesauce. if you want baked goods. make it at home, but be really careful, especially for nut allergies. and some of these products like dr. lucy who is a pediatrician, whose child had food allergies , made something ready to buy and it is right on the box. read the label.