The prevalence of reported food hypersensitivity among children has increased in Western countries. However, the prevalence varies largely due to differences in methods used in different studies. Double-blind placebo-controlled food challenge (DBPCFC) is the most reliable method to verify or exclude food hypersensitivity. The use of double-blind food challenges is increasing in clinical praxis, but since the method is time- and resource consuming it is rarely used in population-based cohort studies. There is a lack of knowledge on how adolescents and mothers experience participation in double-blind placebocontrolled food challenges and to what extent the food is reintroduced after a negative challenge. While several studies have described the impact of IgEmediated food allergy on Health-Related Quality of Life (HRQL), few studies have described HRQL among children with other food hypersensitivity phenotypes.
The aim of this thesis was to estimate the prevalence of reported food hypersensitivity, associated risk factors, and symptom expressions among schoolchildren. We also examined HRQL among children with total elimination of cow’s milk, hen’s egg, fish or wheat due to food hypersensitivity as a group compared with children with unrestricted diet, and after we categorised the children with eliminated foods into different phenotypes of FHS. Finally, adolescents’ and mothers’ experience of DBPCFC was examined as well if the food had been reintroduced.
Three studies were based on the Obstructive Lung Disease in Northern Sweden (OLIN) paediatric cohort II. The cohort was recruited in 2006 when all children in first and second grade (7-8 years) in three municipalities in Norrbotten were invited to a parental questionnaire study and 2,585 (96% of invited) participated. The questionnaire included questions about food hypersensitivity, asthma, rhinitis, eczema and possible risk factors. The children in two municipalities were also invited to skin prick testing with 10 airborne allergens, and 1,700 (90%) participated. Paper I is based on this initial survey of the cohort. Four years later, at age 11-12 years, the cohort was followed up using the same methods and with the same high participation rate. At the follow-up, 125 children (5% of the cohort) reported total elimination of cow’s milk, hen’s egg, fish or wheat due to food hypersensitivity. These children were invited to a clinical examination and to complete a generic (KIDSCREEN-52) and a diseasespecific HRQL questionnaire (FAQLQ-TF) (n=75). Based on the clinical examination the children were categorised into different phenotypes of food hypersensitivity: current food allergy, outgrown food allergy and lactose intolerance. In addition, a random sample of children with unrestricted diet from the same cohort, answered the generic questionnaire (n=209). Paper II is based on this HRQL study. Children categorised as having current food allergy were invited to a further evaluation including DBPCFC. Eighteen months after the challenges, these children were interviewed about their experiences during and after the challenge (n=17). Paper III is based on these interviews. Paper IV was based on interviews with mothers to children referred to a paediatric allergy specialist for evaluation of food allergy using DBPCFC (n=8). In the two interview studies results were analysed using qualitative content analysis.
At age 7-8 years, the prevalence of reported food hypersensitivity was 21%. Food hypersensitivity to milk, egg, fish, wheat or soy was reported by 10.9% and hypersensitivity to fruits or nuts by 14.6%. The most common essential food to trigger symptoms was milk, reported by 9%. The most frequently reported food induced symptoms, were oral symptoms mainly caused by fruits, followed by gastrointestinal symptoms mainly caused by milk. The risk factor pattern was different for food hypersensitivity to milk compared to hypersensitivity to other foods. No significant difference in distribution in generic or disease-specific HRQL was found among children with reported total elimination of milk, egg, fish and/or wheat due to FHS compared to children with unrestricted diet. However, a trend indicated that the disease-specific HRQL was most impaired among children with current food allergy compared to children with outgrown food allergy and lactose intolerance. The proportion of poor HRQL defined as ≥75 percentile was significantly higher among children with current food allergy than the other phenotypes. A DBPCFC was an opportunity for the adolescents and the mothers to overcome the fear of reactions to food that had been eliminated for a long time. After the challenge, when the food was partially or fully reintroduced, socializing became easier and both adolescents and mothers experienced more freedom regarding food intake. A negative challenge was not consistently associated with reintroduction of the food. Reasons for reintroduction failure were fear of allergic reactions, that the adolescent did not like the taste of the food, or that living with an elimination diet was considered as normal. Conclusion In this population-based study, one in five of children at age 7-8 years reported food hypersensitivity to any food. The generic HRQL was similar among children with and without food hypersensitivity. However, poor disease-specific HRQL was more common among children with current food allergy compared to children with other FHS phenotypes. If the tested food was reintroduced after a DBPCFC, both adolescents and mothers described a changed life with less fear, and that life had become easier regarding meal preparations and social events. As reintroduction failure was present despite a negative food challenge, follow-ups and evaluations of food reintroduction should be performed independent of the outcome of a food challenge.