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UCLA Launches New Food and Drug Allergy Care Center


CU-Food and Drug Allergy Center The UCLA Food and Drug Allergy Care Center in Santa Monica is the only facility in greater Los Angeles dedicated solely to the diagnosis and treatment of children and adults who suffer from food and drug allergies. Center physicians offer the most up-to-date techniques — backed by state-of-the-art clinical research — to diagnose and treat food and drug allergies. The center’s allergy and immunology experts provide comprehensive services, including oral food challenges, graded drug challenges, aspirin and other drug desensitization programs, and complete skin testing for penicillin allergy.

Food and drug allergies are reproducible immune reactions in which the immune system attacks food or drug proteins. While many people suffer adverse reactions to certain foods or drugs, true food and drug allergies occur when antibodies trigger the release of chemicals, such as histamine, that cause an allergic reaction. Allergic symptoms can range from mild rash and diarrhea to more serious problems such as rapid tissue swelling, breathing difficulties, shock and, in rare instances, death.

Food allergies mainly afflict children

Food allergies are primarily a disease of childhood, afflicting 6 percent of children and 3 percent of adults in the United States, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. The most common culprits are milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, fish, shellfish, wheat, soy and sesame. While children outgrow most food allergies, only one in five peanut allergies resolve over time. Between 1997 and 2007, the number of reported cases of food allergy rose 18 percent, which some researchers attribute to the late introduction of high-risk foods into American children’s diets. Oral food challenges are the most accurate diagnostic tool While blood and skin tests effectively identify environmental allergens like pollen and dust, these tools are not as accurate for diagnosing food allergies. Blood tests that measure the level of allergic antibodies made in response to a particular food (called specific Immunoglobulin E or IgE) may give false positive results and many people test positive on skin tests for food allergies they don’t have.

The best way to definitively diagnose food allergy is through an oral food challenge, in which a physician deliberately exposes a patient to tiny amounts of the suspected food in a safe and controlled setting. In most clinical settings, oral food challenges are rarely used to diagnose food allergy because they are so time-consuming and labor-intensive. UCLA can offer this definitive diagnostic tool in both inpatient and outpatient settings, depending on the suspected allergy’s severity.

Few drug reactions are true allergies

While all drugs have some unintended side effects, a drug allergy is an adverse reaction to a particular medication that stems from an immunological response to the drug. Acute drug allergies generally result from IgE antibodies and carry a risk of anaphylaxis if the patient is re-exposed to the offending drug.

Penicillin allergy, which afflicts one in 10 people in the United States, and is the most common cause of drug induced anaphylaxis, causes up to 300 deaths every year. The UCLA center is one of the few facilities in the country that offers complete and accurate skin testing to this antibiotic and its metabolites.

Some local anesthetics contain preservatives that can cause an allergic reaction. Patients who may be allergic can undergo a graded drug challenge to accurately diagnose a drug allergy before undergoing a procedure requiring local anesthetic.

Drug desensitization programs offered

The UCLA center also offers drug desensitization, an incremental dosing procedure that modifies the allergic immune response so required medications can be used with relative safety when there are no suitable alternatives.

Aspirin, for instance, is a popular analgesic and cardiac medication that causes allergic reactions in about 1 percent of the population, and about 10 percent of all asthma sufferers. Patients requiring aspirin or other non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs can undergo a closely supervised desensitization program at the center.

The Center offers age-appropriate allergy care

Parents with children who suffer from severe food allergies typically restrict them from many common childhood activities for fear of an accidental exposure. Proper diagnosis and treatment of food allergies are key to ensuring that a child is not needlessly restricted from enjoying foods and activities that may, in fact, not pose a threat.

“Imagine what it’s like to have a child with acute food allergies who wants to go to sleep-away camp or stay at someone’s home over night,” says Melinda Braskett, M.D., medical director, UCLA Food and Drug Allergy Care Center. “Even going out to eat is really scary.”

While the center diagnoses and treats allergy in both children and adults, teenagers are particularly encouraged to receive allergy care services at the center, as they are at risk for fatal allergy-induced anaphylaxis.

“Adolescents who have known and documented food allergies are the most likely to be unprepared for an accidental exposure,” explains Dr. Braskett.

Participating Physicians

Melinda Braskett, M.D.
Medical Director
Food and Drug Allergy Care A
ssistant Clinical Professor D
avid Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA
Clinical Immunology and Allergy

Marc Riedl, M.D., M.S.
Director of Clinical Trials
Food and Drug Allergy Care Center
David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA
Section Chief, Clinical Immunology and Allergy

Andrew Saxon, M.D.
Executive Director
Food and Drug Allergy Care Center
Professor, David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA
Clinical Immunology and Allergy

Contact Information
UCLA Food and Drug Allergy Care Center
1245 16th Street Suites 303 and 309
Santa Monica, CA 90405
(310) 315-8990
email: fooddrugallergy@mednet.ucla.edu

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