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Global studies show that asthma and allergies are reaching epidemic proportions, however diagnosis and continuity of care “remains cumbersome and treatment incomplete”.
With the approach of Allergy Awareness Week (20-26 May 2012), national charity Allergy New Zealand is keen to highlight the increasing prevalence of allergies, particularly to food, in this country.
It is estimated that as many as 1 in 10 children in New Zealand have a food allergy. An increasing number of those affected have multiple food and/or environmental allergies and asthma.
There is no cure. Complete avoidance of a particular allergen is the only way to prevent an allergic reaction. In addition, food allergy carries the risk of life threatening reactions (anaphylaxis) in some people. Those diagnosed with food allergy need to be assessed for this risk and provided education, along with an action plan and medication for emergency treatment.
Allergy NZ CEO Penny Jorgensen says “It’s difficult for many people to get a clear diagnosis in the first place. Diagnosis is complex and in many places in New Zealand there are limited resources, including training for health professionals and availability of specialists within the public health system. Therefore effective management of their condition is impossible”.
Recognising that family doctors are the first port of call for most patients, Allergy NZ is currently working with Auckland University’s Goodfellow Unit on an online tool kit for GP’s on Food Allergy. The Australian Society of Clinical Immunology and Allergy (ASCIA) have developed free online training for health professionals and the NZ Paediatric Society will shortly be issuing a consensus statement on the diagnosis and management of food allergy in NZ children.
However, many believe these steps will barely manage the tidal wave of allergic disease in the years to come.
In March the International Collaboration in Asthma, Allergy & Immunology (iCAALL) was formed by the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology, European Academy of Allergy & Clinical Immunology, World Allergy Organisation and American College of Allergy Asthma & Allergy “in light of the increasing burden of allergic disease”. iCAALL says asthma and allergies constitute a major public health concern worldwide.
Dr Jan Sinclair, Paediatric Immunologist and Allergy Specialist at Starship Children’s Hospital, says “while we don't have good data in New Zealand, the clinical impression is that not only is food allergy getting more common, but it is getting more complicated”.
“We are seeing more children with food allergies that persist into adolescence, and more children with multiple allergies or allergy to unusual combinations of foods. The management of these problems is made more difficult by their relatively recent increase. Therefore many centres do not have well established services to meet the needs of these children and their families”.
Allergy New Zealand believes that a national health initiative needs to be put in place to manage the increasing burden of allergies on the public health care system. Steps also need to be taken to minimise the incidence of allergic diseases in the New Zealand population.
Allergy New Zealand provides information, education and support for people living with allergies and works to reduce the impact on families and individuals. It does not receive any government funding and is very grateful for donations to help provide education, support and funding for research.
 Johnson, K. 2012
 Osborne et Al. 2011
 Burks et Al. 2012