Signs of Allergy Differ by Race

Food allergy sensitization more likely in African American children than white children

March 11, 2013 / Author:  / Reviewed by: Robert Carlson, M.D

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(dailyRx News) Even before children show signs of allergies, their body may already be reacting to allergens in the air or their food. Now, researchers have found that race may play a role in children's sensitivity to developing allergies.

Sensitization is a term that means a person's immune system is responding to allergens. Someone who is sensitized to an allergen may get positive results on an allergy test but not necessarily go on to develop allergy symptoms.

According to a recent study, African American children were over three times more likely to be sensitized to at least one food allergen than Caucasian children.

Results also showed that African American children with one allergic parent were more than twice as likely as those without an allergic parent to be sensitized to an airborne allergen.

"Ask your pharmacist about OTC treatment for child allergies."

In their study, researchers, led by Haejin Kim, MD, of Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit, MI, aimed to better understand the role of race in the development of sensitization to both airborne and food allergens.

Sensitization is the beginning of the immune response to an allergy. It happens when the immune system produces a specific antibody in response to an allergen. Not all people with sensitization have allergy symptoms.

Previous studies have explored the relationship between race and sensitization to allergens. However, the results have been mixed.

The study involved 543 children. Parents and their children were interviewed at a clinical visit when the children were 2 years of age. In the interviews, parents were asked about their allergy history, including doctor's diagnosis of hay fever, nasal allergies and allergic rhinitis (inflammation of the nasal airways). Children were skin tested for seven airborne allergies and three food allergens, which included egg whites, peanuts and milk.

Researchers found that 13.9 percent of the African American children were sensitized to an environmental, or airborne, allergen. In comparison, 11 percent of the Caucasian children were sensitized to an airborne allergen.

Only 6.4 percent of Caucasian children were sensitized to a food allergen, compared to 20.1 percent of African American children.

Overall, the odds of being sensitized to an airborne allergen were similar between African American and Caucasian children. However, African American children with an allergic parent had 2.45 times the odds of being sensitized to an airborne allergen compared to African American children without an allergic parent.

"Our findings suggest that African Americans may have a gene making them more susceptible to food allergen sensitization or the sensitization is just more prevalent in African American children than white children at age 2," said Dr. Kim.

"More research is needed to further look at the development of allergy," she added.

"There has been a great deal of controversy regarding the impact of race and development of allergy. This study sheds further light in this arena," said John Oppenheimer, MD, FACAAI, FAAAAI, of Pulmonary and Allergy Associates and a dailyRx Contributing Expert.

"The real question that is yet to be fully elucidated is can we see a difference in true allergy (not just skin test sensitivity) when comparing a child’s race? Thus, further work is still needed. However, this study is intriguing and reinforces the need for further research," said Dr. Oppenheimer.

This study received funding from the Henry Ford Hospital and the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

An abstract of the findings was published in a supplement of The Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology. The study was presented at the annual meeting of the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology.