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Nutrition

UCLA Food Allergy Program unique in the region

05/01/2006

The UCLA Food Allergy Program offers centralized evaluation and treatment for adult and pediatric patients with suspected food allergies. It also provides education to patients and their families and serves as a center for food allergy research. The program, currently the only one of its kind in the western United States, includes a gastroenterologist and a dietitian who both specialize in food allergy patients.

Approximately 8 percent of children and 2 percent of adults suffer from food hypersensitivity. Each year in the U.S., about 30,000 episodes of anaphylaxis and 150 deaths occur due to food allergy.

The UCLA program offers comprehensive diagnostic testing for patients with suspected food allergies or suspected adverse reactions to specific foods. These tests include skin testing for food allergies, blood testing for IgE antibodies (radioallergosorbent test or RAST) and food challenges. Food challenge is the gold standard of food allergy testing, but because of the danger of a severe reaction, it should only be undertaken at a facility equipped to handle allergic reaction emergencies. Apart from the safety issue, food challenges provide the best and most reliable information when they are performed as double-blind, placebocontrolled tests of increasing concentrations of the suspected food allergen.

In recent years, blood tests have become more sophisticated and now offer for the most common food allergies the ability to predict the likelihood that the patient will experience generalized reactions to the food allergen. The new test, called ImmunoCAP, can help guide decisions about food avoidance. Generalized reactions can range from relatively mild skin reactions – such as hives – to anaphylaxis.

Appropriate Patients

Food allergy can present in a variety of forms. One of the signs of food sensitivity commonly seen in pediatric patients is the early onset of eczema – often at around 3 months of age – which can be the precursor to the development of the more familiar and immediate hive reaction to food allergens. Babies with severe eczema, those with persistent vomiting or diarrhea that does not resolve with formula change, and babies who fail to thrive can all benefit from a careful and thorough food allergy evaluation. Such an evaluation can be useful in pinpointing specific food allergies or in simply ruling out food sensitivity to avoid unnecessary restrictions and to allow the pediatrician to proceed to other diagnoses.

Evidence suggests that appropriate early dietary intervention may prevent further allergic manifestations, such as allergic rhinitis and asthma. When a family history of allergy exists, pediatricians should consider an early referral to a specialized food allergy program. For children diagnosed with a food allergy, periodic retesting is appropriate to determine if they have outgrown their allergy.

A dedicated food allergy program can be especially helpful for adult patients who have a complex history of food allergy, or who have a severe or atypical form of food allergy. Because managing food allergy cases can be both diagnostically and therapeutically challenging, the UCLA Food Allergy Program offers comprehensive services to support physicians in the community in providing the best possible care for their patients.

Patient and parent education

Food allergy patients frequently receive misinformation about their condition, so providing patients with sound, scientific information can be an important element in helping them manage their condition. A registered dietitian, who is part of the program staff, provides counseling on recommended diets and foods to avoid as well as advise on such topics as reading food labels and strategies for dining at restaurants.

A developing field of research

Important parts of the mission of the UCLA Food Allergy Program are to contribute to the research conducted in the field of food allergy, and to provide treatment alternatives to food avoidance. Interest in this field of medical research has increased in recent years as experts continue to seek ways to improve the lives of food allergy sufferers.

Contact information

For more information, to consult with a UCLA Food Allergy Program physician, or to make an appointment, call:
310-825-6481 – Division of Pediatric Allergy and Immunology
800-825-2631 – UCLA Physician Helpline

Participating physicians

Maria Garcia-Lloret, M.D.
Marc Riedl, M.D.





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