Food allergy

Food allergies in children are on the rise worldwide, with symptoms ranging from mild skin rash to life-threatening anaphylaxis.

In food allergy, the immune system incorrectly identifies the specific food as a threat when entering the body.

Some symptoms are mild but severe symptoms like breathing difficulties (anaphylaxis) can be life-threatening. Mild skin rash (hives), face swelling, vomiting and tummy pain indicate a mild reaction while severe, potentially fatal anaphylaxis causes noisy/difficulty breathing, persistent coughing, voice change, going pale and floppy or collapsing.

Over 90 percent of childhood food allergies in Australia are to egg, milk, peanut, tree nuts, wheat, soy, fish or shellfish. 

Most resolve during primary school but those to peanut, tree nuts, fish and shellfish are more likely lifelong. Peanut allergy is the most common cause of anaphylaxis.

 *Seek medical advice if worried that your child has a food allergy.

Who does it affect?

Who does it affect?

  • Australia has the highest reported rates of childhood food allergy in the world.
  • Our Melbourne study HealthNuts found that one in 10 babies and one in 20 primary school-aged children have a food allergy.
  • On average, one child in every classroom will have a food allergy.
  • Over the past two decades, admitted to hospital with severe food allergy reactions (anaphylaxis) in Australia has increased by more than 350 percent. Admissions for peanut anaphylaxis have also increased dramatically.

Our food allergy research

Our food allergy research

The Population Allergy Group hosts the National Allergy Centre of Excellence and the Centre for Food & Allergy Research to unite researchers to prevent allergy and harmful events.

Our large population-based studies HealthNuts, EarlyNuts and SchoolNuts, involve over 16,000 children. These studies have helped to understand the risk factors and consequences of food allergy, informed changes to food allergy prevention, diagnosis and management and led to large scale clinical trials of novel food allergy prevention strategies. Research on data and samples from these cohorts is ongoing to develop safer diagnostics and improve management for children and adolescents living with food allergy, and their families.

Our Allergy Immunology group focuses on causes of food allergies and identifying and evaluating new treatments to induce clinical remission (sustained unresponsiveness). Trials include comparing peanut immunotherapy alone with combined therapy and studying cell changes associated with long-lasting versus short-lived remission. The effects of treatment on quality of life and comparison of the benefits associated with remission versus desensitisation are also being studied. 

Learn more

For an overview of the paediatric food allergy research currently ongoing or recently completed in Australia, visit the Murdoch Children's led National Allergy Centre of Excellence and Centre for Food & Allergy Research.

Population-based cohorts studies  

Food allergy prevention clinical trials 

Food allergy early intervention/treatment clinical trials 

Our vision

Our vision

In the next decade, our goal is to reverse the food allergy epidemic in Australia – and beyond. Our focus is on implementing strategies that prevent food allergy from developing, identifying early interventions to reduce the number of food allergies and offering children and adolescents treatments that induce remission of allergy. This will free millions from the burden of food avoidance and improve quality of life.

Where to next?

Where to next?

The Population Allergy Group will continue working towards reducing the prevalence of childhood food allergy in Australia and globally through improved prevention and early intervention. To prevent the current 10 per cent of infants developing food allergy, and for those that we can’t prevent, implement precision early intervention to give each child the best chance of living without food allergy.

We will do this by generating, translating and evaluating new knowledge about novel strategies to prevent – and early targeted interventions to treat – young children with food allergy. For children and teenagers currently living with food allergy, we will focus on reducing harm by identifying and implementing strategies to prevent adverse reactions to foods.

The Allergy Immunology Group plans to develop the successful peanut oral immunotherapy treatment commercially through Prota Therapeutics - a biotech start-up established at the Murdoch Children's so that children with peanut allergy can be freed from the burden of living with their allergy.

We will try to determine whether our oral immunotherapy approach can be applied to other food allergies, and examine whether clinical remission and desensitisation are long-lasting as well as the long-term impact of treatment on quality of life and the risks and benefits of remission compared with desensitisation in the real world.