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Last Updated: Wednesday, 26 September 2007, 07:11 GMT 08:11 UK
Allergy epidemic gets 'poor care'
Woman sneezing
Allergies have trebled in 20 years
Poor care and confusing advice is being used to deal with an allergy epidemic in the UK, experts have said.

The House of Lords science and technology committee warned there were not enough specialist services and that food labelling was inadequate.

The cross-party group of peers said the UK was lagging behind western Europe.

It also called for advice to pregnant women and young children not to eat peanuts to be withdrawn. The government said the findings would be considered.

It comes after the Commons health committee criticised the lack of services in 2004.

Allergy centres

The number of people suffering allergic reactions has trebled in the last 20 years with a third of the population estimated to suffer at some point in their lives.

The government must now take steps to deal with that problem
Baroness Finlay
Science and technology committee

Each year over 6,000 people in England are admitted to hospital - a quarter of these with anaphylaxis which is a severe and potentially life-threatening reaction involving breathing difficulties.

Allergic reactions are caused by substances in the environment known as allergens, of which the most common are pollen from trees and grasses, house dust mites, wasps, bees and food such as milk and eggs.

HAVE YOUR SAY
We are talking about serious medical conditions that can kill you. Please try and be more understanding of genuine sufferers
Kathy, Caerphilly

Cases of asthma and skin disorders can also be allergy related.

The Lords report called for specialist allergy centres to be set up in each region similar to the models operating in Denmark and Germany.

At the moment there are over 90 clinics, but only six are led by allergy consultants that can treat and diagnose the full range of conditions.

The report said GPs and other health professionals had poor knowledge of allergies and recommended allergy training becomes a more important component of medical training.

Abstaining

The committee also heard evidence that abstaining from eating peanuts in pregnancy and in the early years may be increasing the risk of allergies developing and as a result called for a change to government guidance.

The peers said food warnings - which commonly involve the catch-all term "may contain nuts" - need to be clearer with details of the specific amounts of allergen contained within the product.

The report also called for better training for school staff to deal with allergies.

PEANUT ADVICE
The government currently advises pregnant women and young children not to eat peanuts because of the risk of allergic reactions
But the House of Lords committee said this should be withdrawn after hearing evidence from experts that abstaining may increase the risk of developing an allergy
The Department of Health says the guidance is based on expert advice, but it will look at it after hearing form a Food Standards Agency allergen review

Committee chairman Baroness Finlay said: "We have a severe shortage of expert medical provision to deal with allergies.

"The government must now take steps to deal with that problem."

Jules Payne from the British Allergy Foundation agreed with the findings

She said: "The problem is clearly at epidemic levels, which the House of Lords report has recognised.

"It also recognises that there's an appalling lack of allergy services within the NHS in the UK.

"Now at the moment we've got people who wait for months, if not years, for a referral to see an allergy specialist, so that really does need addressing."

Muriel Simmons, of the Allergy UK support group, welcomed the report, saying allergy services needed improving.

But she added: "Similar recommendations were made in 2004, but there has been nothing in the last three years to suggest that the government is taking serious steps to ease the burden of allergy sufferers."

A Royal College of Physicians spokeswoman said: "A post-code lottery prevails."

The government said it was waiting to hear from a Food Standards Agency review before issuing updated guidance about eating peanuts.

But Health Minister Ann Keen added the government would be considering the other recommendations of the report.

She said allergy care had "firm foundations" with more than 90 allergy clinics operating in England and more money was being made available to increase specialist allergy training posts to build on that.


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An allergy-sufferer describes his experience



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