Stay Up to Date with Food Allergy

I always enjoy National Medical Meetings….good food, meeting old friends, and yes, even learning something!  The College of Allergy annual meeting was held in California just one week ago……and what are the hot topics this year? 

Here’s an article and interview from Medscape about this year’s meeting.  Why am I interested? Dr. Portnoy was my mentor (professor) during my fellowship training in allergy.  Way to go Jay! 

Here’s what he had to say–This international food allergy conference features the latest on eosinophilic esophagitis, unusual and “off the beaten track” food allergies, spice allergies, and developments in food immunotherapy.

“Food allergy is always something that people are interested in,” Jay Portnoy, MD, professor of pediatrics at the University of Missouri, Kansas City, and Mercy Children’s Hospital, told Medscape Medical News

Children’s Mercy Hospital entrance

Dr. Portnoy, who chaired this year’s abstract committee, highlighted a few of the presentations on food allergy that he considers particularly noteworthy.

“Researchers at Northwestern University in Chicago have found that kids with egg and milk allergy are more likely to outgrow those allergies than if they have tree nut or shellfish allergy. So when the doctor says your child will probably outgrow their egg or milk allergy, they’re not too far off,” he said.

Another study examines how people who are allergic to hen eggs might be able to tolerate them when they are baked. “It turns out that baking the egg actually denatures or neutralizes the allergen, more so than if you just partially cook it. If you introduce cakes and cookies into your diet, you will be able to most likely broaden your diet and improve the quality of your life,” he said. 

One presentation of definite note is on a newly identified and possibly life-threatening allergic reaction to mammalian meat. Researchers have determined that the lone star tick is the primary reason for meat-induced alpha-gal allergic reactions.

“This new food allergy, alpha-gal, is more common than we thought. There is a high prevalence in some areas of the country, particularly in the central and southern regions of the United States,” Dr. Portnoy explained.

Alpha-gal is a sugar found in red meats such as beef, pork, and lamb. In the study to be presented, positive alpha-gal rates were 32% higher in areas with a lone star tick population than in other areas of the United States.

Symptoms of alpha-gal allergic reactions range from mild hives to potentially life-threatening anaphylaxis.

“The reaction is delayed. A lot of people have experienced this, and now we know what it is. This is why it is so important to come to the annual meeting and learn about these unusual allergic reactions,” he said.

The topic of spice allergies is also on the meeting agenda.

According to a statement issued by the ACAAI, spices are one of the most widely used products, and are found in foods, cosmetics, and dental products. The US Food and Drug Administration does not regulate spices, which means that they are often not noted on food labels.

As a result, they are one of the most difficult allergens to identify and avoid.

“While spice allergy seems to be rare, with the constantly increasing use of spices in the American diet and a variety of cosmetics, we anticipate that more and more Americans will develop this allergy,” said Sami Bahna, MD, DrPH, from the Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center in Shreveport.

“Food allergy is a very important topic for allergists because we need to understand the most current research; recently, the field has seen a lot of changes,” ACAAI President Stanley Fineman, MD, from the Atlanta Allergy and Asthma Clinic in Georgia, told Medscape Medical News.

“There is a lot of new understanding about food allergies, new diagnostic tools, and some potential treatments,” he said. “This is the place to find out the latest information; when you go back to your practice, you [will] be on the cutting edge.”

Back by popular demand is the annual literature review course, where experts present what they feel are the key articles of the year on topics such as immunology, allergic rhinitis, ocular allergies, and immunology. “We have almost 500 people already registered for this program. Some people look forward to this program all year long to catch up on the literature. It’s a very popular feature of the meeting,” Dr. Fineman said.

The slogan for this year’s meeting is “Over the Horizon: Expanding Expertise,” which captures the essence of what the conference is about, he noted.

“The program committee selected this theme to help us see what is going on in the future, to expand our expertise, to make sure that we are able to keep current, and to hone our skills so we can adapt to any changes in healthcare and any new research involved with treating our patients,” Dr. Fineman explained.

“Most allergists go to the meeting to find out what’s new in allergy, to keep their skills up, to interact with colleagues, and to validate what they do. Because, like most allergists and most physicians, if you are in practice and you don’t interact with other physicians, you can start to develop quirky styles of practice that may not be the best practices. It’s really a good idea to touch base with colleagues, interact, and hone your skills,” Dr. Portnoy added.

“At this meeting, allergists will hear about an unusual case and then remember a patient who had the same thing. That’s how advances in our field are made,” he said.

I could say it better.  With all the controversy swirling around health care reform, it’s refreshing to learn about what really matters for taking care of patients….that’s why I keep going to work every day!

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