Experts say that Australia needs a food allergy register to record deaths and near misses due to lack of awareness in local communities.
The most common food allergies in early childhood are cow’s milk, egg, sesame seeds and peanuts, with about one in 10 children showing a reaction by 12 months.
Allergy and Anaphylaxis Australia president Maria Said says people are being put at risk because of a lack of knowledge.
“It affects quality of life. We are calling on the Australian government to recognise allergy as a health priority,” she says.
“In the absence of mandatory reporting of severe anaphylaxis, or mandatory coronial inquests as in the UK, we are potentially underestimating the number of food-allergy fatalities and near misses.”
Said believes although deaths are rare, each allergic reaction has the potential to be life-threatening.
“Most schools have a child in almost every class who has a potentially life-threatening allergy.”
Teachers are trained and aware, and schools should have strategies to reduce risk, she says.
“Schools in Queensland, NSW, Victoria and Western Australia must have an adrenaline autoinjector in their first aid kit. That’s for anyone who goes into anaphylaxis, not just those previously diagnosed.”
However, Ms Said raised concerns about people who failed to recognise early symptoms of anaphylaxis or used injector devices incorrectly.
Australia has an estimated 30,000 new food allergy cases a year, says anaphylaxis expert Dr Raymond Mullins.
Of these, 9000 will develop peanut allergy, which usually lasts for life.
The risk of a fatal reaction becomes much greater in the teens or early adult years, he says.
“Most people with a mild allergy will never have an anaphylaxis but some will and doctors have difficulty predicting who these individuals will be.”