‘Concerning increase in fatalities’ due to cow’s milk allergy in children

There has been a “concerning increase in fatalities” among children due to cow’s milk allergies, according to researchers.

The product is responsible for 26% of food allergy deaths in school-aged children, making it the most common cause of fatal food anaphylaxis among this group.

Research has also found that hospital admissions for severe food allergies have tripled over the past two decades, despite the number of deaths for food-related anaphylaxis falling.

The study, published in The BMJ, looked at data from 1998 until 2018, when 101,891 people were admitted to UK hospitals for severe allergic reactions.

Food allergies accounted for 30,700 of these.

The largest increase was seen in children under the age of 15, according to the study’s authors from Imperial College London’s National Heart and Lung Institute.

The rise was from 2.1 admissions per 100,000 people to 9.2 per 100,000.

Some 152 deaths were attributed to a severe allergic reaction triggered by food, with cow’s milk blamed for 17 of the 66 deaths in school-aged children.

Across all ages, nuts were responsible for 46% of deaths.

The researchers wrote: “Since 1992 a downward trend has occurred in the proportion of deaths due to peanut or tree nut, but deaths due to cow’s milk exposure have increased.

“We observed a concerning increase in fatalities due to cow’s milk, which is now the most common cause of fatal food anaphylaxis in children in the UK.”

Meanwhile the authors point to increased prescriptions of adrenaline auto-injector pens – which help treat severe allergic reactions.

Over the study time period, prescriptions for adrenaline auto-injectors increased by 336%.

But they said that the impact of the increase is “unclear”.

“Hospital admissions for food induced anaphylaxis have increased from 1998 to 2018, however the case fatality rate has decreased,” the authors wrote.

“In school-aged children, cow’s milk is now the most common single cause of fatal anaphylaxis.

“Most young children with allergy to cow’s milk will outgrow their allergy; however, in those with persisting allergy, cow’s milk is responsible for more than a quarter of deaths caused by food anaphylaxis.”

Tanya Ednan-Laperouse, co-founder of the Natasha Allergy Research Foundation, said: “This study highlights the urgent need for a national register of deaths by anaphylaxis.

“Only with a national register can the true picture of the allergy crisis be seen and the voices of those crying out for action, including clinicians as well as families, be properly heard.”

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