A fishy tale – new research at Epworth


There is something in the water at Epworth HealthCare in Victoria and it is helping kids to expand their dietary options.

The Centre for Paediatric Allergies at Epworth, alongside James Cook University in Townsville, is leading a study to find out whether children with serious fish allergies can eat flake.

The study’s lead investigator, Dr Sam Mehr, said there had been anecdotal reports of children with allergies to bony fish being able to tolerate flake, or gummy shark, which is a cartilaginous fish.

“Often children who have a fish allergy are told to avoid all fish,” Dr Mehr said.

“We hope the study will show that children with fish allergies can eat flake, which is commonly sold at most fish and chip shops.”

Fourteen-year-old Isaac Hardwick has life-threatening allergies to dairy, eggs, nuts and shellfish.

He stopped eating fish altogether after an allergic reaction to salmon two years ago.

“My mouth became itchy and swollen and then my throat felt like it was starting to close over,” he said.

“I was really disappointed as I had grown up eating salmon, which was one of my favourite foods. Having an allergic reaction really shocked me.”

Fish allergy is among the eight most common causes of food allergy in children. Unlike allergies to cow’s milk, wheat and eggs, adverse reactions to fish tend to continue throughout their lives.

Up to 35 children, who have had an allergic reaction to eating fish in the past three years, will be recruited into the study to undergo a skin-prick test and an allergy blood test to determine if these can predict who is reactive or tolerant to flake.

All the children, under a medically-supervised food challenge at Epworth Richmond, will be given small amounts of flake over a period of four hours.

Dr Mehr said if children passed the flake food challenge, they would then be cleared to eat flake from their local fish and chip shop.

“If children are cleared to eat flake, it would make it easier when they go out for a meal with their family, rather than just eating a bowl of chips,” he said.

“This would be a big thing for a lot of families. The other advantage is that flake also contains the small level of good fats, such as omega-3, as flathead or blue grenadier both have.”

Isaac was the first child to take part in the supervised food challenge, and found he could now safely eat flake.

“I was really nervous going into the study, as I thought it was going to be like the salmon and cause an allergic reaction,” he said.

Isaac’s mother, Linda Everett, said she was pleased with the result of the food challenge.

“Being able to share a meal of fish and chips is bonding time, and he doesn’t feel left out,” she said.

“Isaac’s sister Elle eats a lot of fish, so it was really hard. I am so happy now, it makes life so much easier.”

The study is being funded in partnership with the Australian Food Allergy Foundation and the Epworth Medical Foundation.

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