In one decade, the number of Australian children being admitted to hospital with a severe allergy has increased five fold.
As the federal government today announced an additional $500,000 into allergy management and prevention, Central Queensland University researcher Karena Burke told The Huffington Post Australia no one could definitively explain the "baffling spike".
"The truth is science doesn't really know what's causing it," Burke told HuffPost Australia.
"There's the hygiene hypothesis and there's research into genetic markers that could predispose someone to anaphylaxis, but science really can't tell us what's causing it or who is at risk."
Burke said the five-fold increase in hospital admissions had a ripple effect through the nation because each serious incident affected entire families for years to come.
What is Anaphylaxis?
Anaphylaxis is the most severe form of allergic reaction and is potentially life threatening. It must be treated as a medical emergency, requiring immediate treatment and urgent medical attention.
A severe allergic reaction or anaphylaxis usually occurs within 20 minutes to two hours of exposure to the trigger and can rapidly become life threatening.
"When we say 'severe allergy', that tends to be anaphylaxis or a precursor to it like severe hives or asthma-like breathing difficulties," Burke said.
"When a child is diagnosed with a severe food allergy, it impacts the whole family unit and every family deals with it differently."
As part of Food Allergy Week, Burke has launched a national project exploring how families cope with a child's food hypersensitivity.
She said the research was prompted by studies showing high anxiety levels in teenagers with anaphylaxis and anecdotal stories about families struggling with conflicting information.
"It's quite worrying for parents and carers of children because the information on how to avoid a severe allergy has changed completely in the last few years," Burke said.
"They used to be told to avoid the food entirely but now research is suggesting that actually promotes a more severe reaction later on.
"A lot of parents are confused."
Then there's the subject of sibling resentment.
"After a child's been diagnosed with a food hypersensitivity, some families will have the child avoid it and everyone else carry on as normal but for others, the entire family cuts out that food.
"There hasn't really been any research done into how families cope with that change. For siblings being told they no longer get to eat a certain food, there's almost resentment there, they like peanut butter, why do they have to stop eating it?"
Families with a child who has food hypersensitivity are invited to take part in the study.
Federal Health Minister Sussan Ley meanwhile announced on Monday a $500,000 funding boost to provide support for urgent National Allergy Strategy initiatives.
The grant will go towards creating standardised drug allergy management and improving allergy management for teens and young adults, as well as food services.
National Allergy Strategy co-chair Richard Loh said the nation needed to be focused on saving lives.
"There is no cure for allergic disease," Loh said in a statement.
"These important initiatives will mean more timely, accurate diagnoses and optimal, ongoing care of Australians with allergic disease.
"It will mean a reduction in misdiagnosis and unnecessary prescriptions and investigations and, most importantly, a reduction in allergic reactions and improved emergency treatment when they do happen, potentially saving lives."Suggest a correction