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Food allergies cause an abnormal reaction to a particular food. When a child’s body is exposed to a food that it considers harmful, the child’s immune system will react with symptoms that can range from minor to life-threatening. Food allergies affect millions of children around the world. It is currently estimated that between 5 percent and 10 percent of children in the U.S. have a food allergy, approximately one child in every school classroom.

What causes food allergies?

The causes of food allergies are not yet fully understood. While many exciting discoveries have been made over the past decade, many fundamental questions still remain.

When do children develop food allergies?

Food allergies typically develop within the first year of a child’s life, but they can also develop later in life. 

What are the most common types of food allergies in children?

Although more than 170 foods have been reported to cause allergic reactions, eight food groups are estimated to cause about 90 percent of all food allergies in the U.S., which include:

  • Milk
  • Eggs
  • Peanuts
  • Tree nuts
  • Wheat
  • Soy
  • Fish 
  • Crustacean shellfish
  • Sesame

What are the most common symptoms of food allergies?

Allergic reactions to foods are unpredictable and can manifest through a wide range of signs and symptoms with varying severity. The most common signs and symptoms develop quickly after exposure and include:

  • Hives
  • Tissue swelling
  • Drop in blood pressure
  • Dizziness
  • Coughing
  • Vomiting
  • Stomach cramps
  • Nausea

Food allergies also remain the most common trigger of anaphylaxis (a rapid, potentially life-threatening systemic allergic reaction) among U.S. children.

What treatments are available for children with food allergies?

While different food allergy treatments are currently being studied, there is only one only FDA-approved medication for the treatment of a food allergy at this time. Palforzia is an oral immunotherapy for children ages 4 to 17 with a confirmed peanut allergy.

Children with food allergies, even those taking Palforzia, must carefully avoid contact with allergens and constantly be prepared to treat a reaction that occurs following accidental exposure. This can affect a child and family’s social interactions and routine life activities. 

What is the difference between a food allergy and a food intolerance?

While food allergies and food intolerances can have similar symptoms, they are very different conditions. Food allergies cause a reaction from the body’s immune system, while food intolerances do not affect the immune system. In addition, symptoms of food intolerance are typically not as serious and are often digestion related.

Food Allergy Patients Share Their Stories

Led by Brian Vickery, MD, a national leader in pediatric food allergies, the Children’s Food Allergy Program is dedicated to performing impactful research and delivering valuable, high-quality, patient-centered care to help transform the lives of children and teens affected by food allergies. Children's has been recognized by the Food Allergy Research and Education (FARE), a leading nonprofit, as a FARE Clinical Network Center of Distinction. We are the only site in Georgia, Alabama and South Carolina to receive this honor.

What do we treat? 

Our team of pediatric-trained experts diagnoses and treats children with a wide range of conditions, including:

  • IgE-mediated food allergies
  • Anaphylaxis
  • Oral allergy syndrome or pollen-food allergy syndrome
  • Eosinophilic esophagitis and gastroenteritis
  • Food protein-induced proctocolitis
  • Food protein-induced enterocolitis syndrome (FPIES)
  • Skin conditions frequently linked to a food allergy, such as urticaria (hives), angioedema (swelling) and atopic dermatitis (eczema)
  • Other allergic diseases that may co-exist in children with food allergies, including atopic dermatitis (eczema), environmental allergies and asthma

What services are offered through the Children’s Food Allergy Program?

  • State-of-the-art diagnostics (skin-prick tests and specialized blood testing)
  • Anaphylaxis preparedness (customized action plans and hands-on teaching with epinephrine auto-injectors)
  • Oral food challenges
  • Evaluation of high-risk infants and guided oral exposure to prevent peanut allergy
  • Multidisciplinary care with support from other affiliated medical specialties and ancillary services, such as nutrition and psychology
  • Oral immunotherapy for peanut allergy (Palforzia)
  • Clinical research opportunities
  • Access to new experimental treatments through clinical trials

In the past few years, exciting research has led to the development of new treatments for food allergies, including peanut allergy. At Children’s, we are committed to offering our patients access to these treatments through clinical trials or routine clinical care as the new treatments become available.

How has Children’s contributed to food allergy research?

Dr. Vickery led the international Phase 3 clinical trial that studied Palforzia, an oral immunotherapy for children ages 4 to 17 with a confirmed peanut allergy. This study was one of the largest clinical trials ever conducted in food immunotherapy. Children’s administered the first dose of the new FDA-approved peanut allergy oral immunotherapy treatment for children in 2020. 

What food allergy clinical trials are currently being offered at Children’s?

Children’s is one of 10 centers in the country currently enrolling children, teens and young adults (ages 1 to 25) who have a peanut allergy and at least two other food allergies to milk, egg, wheat, cashew, hazelnut or walnut in the NIH-funded Omalizumab as Monotherapy and as Adjunct Therapy to Multi-Allergen OIT in Food Allergic Children and Adults (OUtMATCH) Study. In this study, our researchers are trying to determine if a medication called omalizumab—alone or combined with OIT—can help children with multiple food allergies.

More information about OUtMATCH and other current clinical trials, including trial descriptions and eligibility criteria, can be found on our research web page. You may also call 404-785-6448 or email foodallergyresearch@choa.org to learn more.

What other types of food allergy research activities are taking place at Children's?

  • Social and psychological burdens: Food allergies can be very stressful for families. Dr. Vickery and his team are conducting studies to better understand the social and psychological burdens caused by food allergies in order to develop better solutions to address these burdens.
  • Share your experience: As a FARE Center of Distinction, our team encourages interested families to get involved by sharing your experiences with the national FARE Patient Registry. The registry helps researchers better understand food allergies and their impact, reveals opportunities to improve the care food allergy patients receive, and powers the search for new ways to diagnose, treat and ultimately cure food allergies.

What are clinical trials?

Clinical trials are research studies that explore whether a medical strategy, treatment or device is safe and effective for people. Clinical trial participants help researchers answer key questions that can lead to new cures and treatments.

Which types of food allergies are included in the clinical trials?

Our clinical trials focus on the major food allergens, including peanuts, milk, eggs and tree nuts. All food allergens are important, and we hope to be able to include more patients in future studies. We encourage anyone with a food allergy to contact us through our registry, as it helps us know our community’s needs when we are approached about a potential study.

What types of trials are expected to be offered in the future?

Visit our research page, as we will update information about future trials as they become available.

Can I enroll my child in more than one trial at the same time?

This depends on the specific study protocol, but most studies prohibit simultaneous involvement in more than one clinical trial. Other types of studies, such as questionnaire studies or lab-based studies, may be allowed.

Is there a cost for enrolling my child in a clinical trial?

One of the advantages of participating in clinical research is that there is no direct financial cost. Companies provide their experimental medications for free. There may be other types of indirect costs associated with participating, such as the cost of travel to the center or missed work. While insurance may be billed for certain illnesses that occur during a trial, the trial’s sponsor typically assumes responsibility for the medical services delivered during the trial. If you have more questions about this, discuss them with the study team or email us at foodallergyresearch@choa.org.

How can I sign my child up to participate in a food allergy clinical trial?

If you are interested in registering your child as a potential participant, email our team at foodallergyresearch@choa.org. We will do our best to respond within 3 business days.

What happens once we complete the registry questionnaire? Do we need to circle back and periodically check for new trials, or will we be contacted when trials become available?

Once you complete the registry questionnaire, your entry is recorded in a database that we will use once we have a study that is ready to be recruited. If your child looks like a good match for a study, we will contact you at the number you provided.

Can my child participate remotely?

For safety reasons, we ask that participants live within a reasonable distance of the study center.

FDA approves new treatment for peanut allergy

Groundbreaking research led by Brian Vickery, MD, Director of the Food Allergy Program, has led to a new oral immunotherapy for peanut allergy. The new treatment may help reduce the severity of allergic reactions, including anaphylaxis, that may occur with accidental exposure.

Learn more

Pediatric allergists and immunologists

Advanced practice providers

  • Chelsea Bates, DNP, CPNP
  • Codi Horton, CPNP

Our Food Allergy Program is located on the fifth floor of the Center for Advanced Pediatrics in Atlanta.

Center for Advanced Pediatrics
1400 Tullie Road NE
Atlanta, GA 30329