Introducing children to allergenic foods earlier may help prevent them developing a food allergy, says a paediatric allergist at the Woolcock Institute of Medical Research in Sydney.

Australian parents have long been told to keep egg, peanuts and other allergy-triggering foods out of their baby’s diet when they first start solids to help dodge allergies, says Dr John Tan. Now, researchers are investigating the possibility that early introduction of these foods may actually be helpful in allergy prevention.

Almost one in 10 Australian children are allergic to eggs, one of the highest egg allergy rates in the world.

“Statistically, rates of food allergy are much lower in countries in South East Asia and the Middle East,” Dr Tan says.

“One of the things that differs in these countries is that they tend to introduce allergenic foods earlier rather than avoiding them. We don’t yet know if the early introduction is the reason for their lower allergy rates, or whether something else is at play.”

Dr Tan launched a specialist children’s allergy clinic at the Woolcock Institute in Glebe this week, officially opened by Tanya Plibersek, Federal Member for Sydney and Deputy Leader of the Opposition (pictured).

Up to 40% of Australian children have evidence of allergic sensitisation and may go on to develop asthma, eczema, hay fever and allergies to foods like egg, peanuts, milk and wheat.

Research is underway worldwide to investigate the issue: Dr Tan is the primary investigator of a large study carried out by the Children’s Hospital at Westmead looking at the prevention of egg allergy through the early introduction of egg.

“We hope to show that early egg exposure will result in a decrease in egg allergy,” Dr Tan says.

“I’m always looking to improve quality of life for these young families,” he says. “Too often we see parents who haven’t gone out for dinner for years because they’re scared of what their child might be exposed to, but you don’t need to live like that.”

He says he hopes that providing parents with sound information and understanding of their child’s allergies will result in improved compliance and quality of life for their families.

The most common allergic foods are: peanuts, tree nuts, milk, egg, wheat, soy, fish and shellfish.