Monday 18 June 2018

Children with autism 'more likely to have allergies'

The study, led by public health scientists at the University of Iowa in the US, suggested both conditions have a shared origin in a child’s developing immune system. Photo: Stock Image
The study, led by public health scientists at the University of Iowa in the US, suggested both conditions have a shared origin in a child’s developing immune system. Photo: Stock Image

Alex Mathew King

Children with autism are twice as likely to be diagnosed with a food allergy as the general population, a new study has found. Youngsters with the condition also have a higher risk of respiratory and skin allergies such as eczema and hayfever, researchers said.

The study, led by public health scientists at the University of Iowa in the US, suggested both conditions have a shared origin in a child's developing immune system.

However, the study, published in the journal of the American Medical Association, does not provide new evidence of such a link and has limitations that mean its other findings require caution.

"It is possible that immunologic disruptions may have processes beginning early in life, which then influence brain development and social functioning, leading to the development of autism spectrum disorders," said Dr Wei Bao, an assistant professor of epidemiology.

Autism is a condition which changes the way people communicate and experience the world around them, and while some may live independent lives others may have health or learning differences that need support.

The condition was thrust into the spotlight in 1998 when disgraced British doctor Andrew Wakefield warned the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) triple jab might cause autism, pointing to rising cases worldwide.

This work has since been withdrawn and experts now believe a more likely explanation for rising rates of autism - and allergies - is increasing awareness of the conditions.

Both can present in mild forms that might previously have been unremarked on, however their causes are likely to involve a mix of genetic and environmental factors at different times of development.

The study looked at data from 200,000 children collected from parents between 1997 and 2016 as part of a routine national health survey in the US. It found food allergies were 129pc more common in children with ASD, and skin and respiratory conditions increased by 50pc and 28pc respectively.

However, the survey, which compiled interviews from a sample of parents about their child's health each year, does not draw the data directly from their health records.

This makes the results vulnerable to parents' biases or what they remember, experts warned. The findings may show that parents of children with autism are more likely to notice and report minor food and digestive allergies; upsets which parents of children without ASD might ignore.

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