‘Specially for Children alliance with Food Allergy and Education network means more studies, more information for Austin kids

Dr. Pooja Varshey is the medical director of the FARE Clinical Network site at ‘Specially for Children.

Dr. Pooja Varshney is the medical director of the FARE Clinical Network site at ‘Specially for Children.

‘Specially for Children, the specialist doctor’s group affiliated with Dell Children’s Medical Center of Central Texas, is now one of 28 Centers of Excellence within the Food Allergy Research and Education Clinical Network. What does that mean to kids in Austin?

It means that ‘Specially for Children now will be able to do more research on food allergies and get its patients into clinical trials. It also comes with a grant that will allow ‘Specially for Children to add support staff that will allow the group to reduce patients’ wait times for food allergy-related procedures as well as increase social media outreach about food allergy awareness.

‘Specially for Children has been able to open its first research study. It’s a multicenter study looking at a treatment for peanut allergies. ‘Specially for Children is recruiting dozens of families right now for the study and has already enrolled its first patient in the study. Dr. Pooja Varshney, the Austin center director,  says they don’t know how many Austin patients will be enrolled in the study or how long they will be enrolling patients, because it’s a multicenter study.  At some point, she says, ‘Specially for Children will be told that study enrollment is complete across all the centers participating.

“Part of being part of this clinical network is that there will be new studies,” she says. “We’ll continue to get opportunities.”

‘Specially for Children is the only FARE clinic in Central Texas. The others in Texas are in Dallas and Houston. Varshney says the practice has seen patients from all over the Austin area as well as the Hill Country, San Antonio and College Station.

The research in food allergies has been exciting lately. Last year, research out of England found that babies who were exposed to peanuts had 80 percent less chance of developing a peanut allergy. A followup study released this year found that babies who were initially exposed to peanuts and then did not have them for 12 months, did not develop an allergy.

This research is changing how and when parents introduce first foods. Still, before you give a possible allergen to a baby, talk to your doctor first, especially if the baby has eczema or another food allergy.

Even though food allergies are often in the news and the number of kids who have them is thought to be about 8 percent or 1 in 12 (which translates to roughly two kids in every elementary school classroom), many people still don’t understand the difference between an allergy and an intolerance, Varshney says.

Here are the basic facts:

An allergy is something that causes and life-threatening allergic response called anaphylaxis. It’s a narrowing of your airway and respiratory distress, a drop in blood pressure, a sudden rash or itching, a weak pulse, vomiting and nausea. It’s usually an immediate reaction and requires immediate medical attention.  It is not an intolerance, which might be something that causes your stomach to be upset or a developing rash. Your body doesn’t like that something, but it’s not life-threatening.

It’s important to get proper testing to know whether you have a true allergy or just an intolerance.

For a person to have an allergic reaction to a food they usually have to ingest it.

90 percent of food allergies are to these eight things: Milk, eggs, soy, wheat, peanuts, tree nuts, fish and shelfish.

Most people are allergic to one or several. It’s rare to be allergic to all eight, but that does happen.

Milk, eggs and wheat allergies can be outgrown, but only 20 percent of people allergic to peanuts will outgrow it. Periodic testing is important.

One of the things Varshney does is educate patients with food allergies and their parents how to be cautious but to go on living their lives.

She tells parents and patients these tips:

Accidental exposure does happen. Know what the signs of anaphylaxis are and how to treat it.

Carry an epinephrine auto-injector (EpiPen) with you and have one at home and one at school.

Know how to use the auto-injector.

Know how to read between the lines of food labels. Not all are good at noting the allergens, though they are supposed to be.

Kids typically have accidental exposures, especially to peanuts, at Asian and Indian restaurants, ice cream stores and bakeries.

Food prepared in someone’s home is also a problem. They might not be aware that it’s big deal if there might be cream or butter in a dish.

Restaurants often change recipes so you always have to ask and make sure the staff person understands it’s a life or death situation, not just a food preference.

The worries change over time. With babies and toddlers, it’s about keeping their fingers out of the dangerous stuff. For school-age children, it’s about managing it at school and on soccer teams. Teens, it’s about making them responsible and in charge of reading labels, asking questions and carrying the EpiPen.