Background: Previous studies have shown a 10-fold discrepancy of self-reported food-induced symptoms and physician-diagnosed food hypersensitivity. Little information is available on the prevalence of food hypersensitivity in unselected paediatric populations. No data were available for German children.
Objective: To study the perception of food-induced symptoms in the paediatric population, to investigate the allergens accused, to objectify patients' reports, and to identify subgroups at risk of having food-induced allergy (FA) or non-allergic food hypersensitivity (NAFH) reactions.
Methods: This paper presents the data of the paediatric group (0-17 years) of a representative, randomly sampled, cross-sectional population-based survey studying 13 300 inhabitants of the German capital city Berlin regarding food-related symptoms. Instruments included mailed questionnaires, structured telephone interviews, physical examination, skin-prick tests, specific serum IgE and standardized, controlled and blinded oral food challenges.
Results: Two thousand three hundred and fifty-four individuals were contacted by mailed questionnaire, 739 (31.4%) responses could be fully evaluated. Four hundred and fifty-five (61.5%) participants reported symptoms related to food ingestion, 284 (38.4%) affirmed reproducible symptoms in the standardized telephone interview. One hundred and eighty-four (24.8%) individuals were fully examined. Reproducible symptoms to food were found in 31 (4.2%) children and adolescents: 26 (3.5%) showed symptoms of FA and five (0.7%) of NAFH. The oral allergy syndrome was most often observed. Foods most commonly identified by oral challenges were apple, hazelnut, soy, kiwi, carrot and wheat.
Conclusion: The perception of food-related symptoms is common among children and adolescents from the general population. Self-reports could be confirmed in around one out of 10 individuals, still resulting in 4.2% of proven clinical symptoms. However, most reactions were mild and mainly because of pollen-associated FA, while NAFH reactions were less common. Severe IgE-mediated FA was observed in individuals with pre-existing atopic disease, who should be fully investigated for clinically relevant FA.