About Food Allergies

The Children's Healthcare of Atlanta's Food Allergy Program was established in March 2018 to perform impactful research and deliver high-quality, patient-centered care to transform the lives of children affected by food allergies in the Southeast and beyond.

What is a food allergy?

A food allergy is an adverse health effect arising from a specific immune response that occurs from exposure to a given food. Food allergies typically develop within the first year of life, but they can also develop later in life. Although more than 170 foods have been reported to cause allergic reactions, eight food groups are estimated to cause 90 percent of food allergies in the U.S., which include milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, wheat, soy, fish and crustacean shellfish. It is currently estimated that between 5 and 10 percent of U.S. children have a food allergy, approximately one child in every school classroom.

Because there are no approved treatments for food allergies, patients and their families must carefully avoid contact with their allergens and constantly be prepared to treat a reaction that occurs following accidental exposure, which can affect their social interactions and routine life activities. A food allergy can cause skin, respiratory and GI reactions, and food allergies remain the most common trigger of anaphylaxis (a rapid, potentially life-threatening systemic allergic reaction) among U.S. children. Allergic reactions to foods are unpredictable and can be severe.

Symptoms of a food allergy

A food allergy can manifest through a wide range of signs and symptoms with varying severity, which makes diagnosis challenging, particularly if a history of allergic reactions has not already been established. The most common signs and symptoms of immunoglobulin E (IgE)-mediated food allergies develop rapidly after exposure and typically manifest on the skin, in the GI tract or respiratory system, or in all of these areas. These signs and symptoms include:

  • Development of urticaria (hives)
  • Angioedema (tissue swelling)
  • Circulatory collapse
  • Dizziness
  • Coughing
  • Vomiting
  • Stomach cramps
  • Nausea

Non-IgE-mediated food allergies are often delayed after exposure and tend to affect the GI tract only. These types of allergies can involve difficulty eating or swallowing, vomiting, diarrhea, poor weight gain, food refusal and/or blood in the stool.

Services We Offer

In the past few years, exciting research has led to the development of new treatments for food allergies. We are committed to offering opportunities to access these treatments through clinical trials or routine clinical care as they become available. Oral immunotherapy (OIT) and epicutaneous immunotherapy (EPIT) for peanut allergy may be available soon at our clinic. Additional OIT and EPIT research studies, as well as studies for new medications, for peanut allergies are still being conducted. Studies for other food allergies, such as milk, eggs and tree nuts, are in progress as well.

Please check back here as we will update this section with new information about our studies as it becomes available.

Participate in food allergy research

Conditions we treat

  • IgE-mediated food allergies
  • Anaphylaxis
  • Oral allergy syndrome or pollen-food allergy syndrome
  • Eosinophilic esophagitis and gastroenteritis
  • Food protein-induced proctocolitis
  • Food protein-induced enterocolitis syndrome (FPIES)
  • Skin conditions frequently linked to a food allergy include urticaria (hives), angioedema (swelling) and atopic dermatitis (eczema)

Services we offer

  • State-of-the-art diagnostics: Skin prick tests and specialized blood testing
  • Anaphylaxis preparedness: Customized action plans and hands-on teaching on epinephrine autoinjectors
  • Oral food challenges
  • Evaluation of high-risk infants and guided oral exposure to prevent a peanut allergy
  • Multidisciplinary care with support from other affiliated medical specialties and ancillary services as needed, such as nutrition, psychology and child life
  • Immunotherapies for a peanut allergy, following approval by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which is projected in 2019
  • Community outreach and education to key stakeholder groups
  • Clinical research opportunities

Our Unique Approach

A food allergy is a complicated, multifactorial disease whose causes, mechanisms and effects are not yet fully understood. Although many exciting discoveries have been made over the past decade, many fundamental questions remain. The Food Allergy Program was created in recognition of the unmet needs faced by children and families living with food allergies and related conditions, and the many resources that we can implement to help address these needs.

Our goal is to become a national leader in the study and treatment of food allergies. We will accomplish this goal in three ways:

  • We will offer a clinical home where patients in Atlanta and throughout the Southeast will have access to the highest-quality, cutting-edge care delivered in a compassionate, patient-centered manner.
  • We will create new knowledge through impactful research that promises a brighter tomorrow. We envision a future in which all patients are offered the opportunity to volunteer for a research study if they so choose, since research is the only way to advance the field.
  • We will engage and communicate with our communities through a variety of methods to help make sure our program continues to align its objectives with the people we serve.

Frequently Asked Questions

Which types of food allergies will be included in the clinical trials?

The clinical trials will focus on the major food allergens, including peanut, milk, egg and tree nuts. All food allergens are important and we hope to be able to include more patients in future studies. We encourage anyone with a food allergen to contact us through our registry, as it is advantageous to know our community's needs when we are approached about a potential study.

Can I enroll in more than one trial at the same time?

This depends on the specific study protocol, but most studies prohibit simultaneous involvement in more than one clinical trial. Other types of studies, such as questionnaire studies or lab-based studies, may be allowed.

Is there a cost for enrolling in a clinical trial?

One of the advantages to participating in clinical research is that there is no direct financial cost. Companies provide their experimental medicines for free. There may be other types of indirect costs associated with participating, such as the cost of travel to the center or missed work. While insurance may be billed for certain illnesses that occur during a trial, the trial's sponsor typically assumes responsibility for the medical services delivered during the trial. If you have further questions about this, please discuss them with the study team or email us at foodallergyresearch@choa.org

Can I participate remotely?

For safety reasons, we ask that participants live within a reasonable distance to the study center.

When will there be a trial available that focuses on eggs, tree nuts, etc.?

Currently, most trials are focused on peanut allergy. However, we know that new trials for milk, egg and tree nut allergies will launch soon. We encourage anyone with any food allergen to contact us through our registry. It is helpful for us to be able to advocate for individuals with certain allergies if we know how common they are in our population and that our community is interested in participating.

What types of trials are expected to be offered first?

The first few studies will be focus on peanut allergy. However, we do anticipate studying other food allergens as well. Please check back on the website, as we will update information about future trials as they become available.

What happens once we sign up for the wait list? Do we need to circle back and periodically check for new trials, or will we be contacted when trials become available?

Once you complete the registry questionnaire, your entry is recorded in a database that we will use once we have a study that is ready to be recruited. If you or your child looks like a good match for that study, we will contact you at the number you provided.