Food-induced allergies on the rise in NZ

Food-induced allergies on the rise in NZ

Food allergies in New Zealand are on the rise. Anaphylaxis is a severe allergic reaction that can be life-threatening.

"It usually starts with this burning, scratchy feeling in the back of my throat, and I have this horrible taste in my mouth," says sufferer Lulia Leilua.

It's increasing in Pacific Islanders.

"It rose from about six per 100,000 people, to around 20 per 100,000, so that's around one in 5000 people," says researcher Penny Fitzharris.

Researchers are still to find out why, but anaphylaxis is also more common overseas in ethnic minorities too.

Ms Leilua's body goes into anaphylactic shock when she eats certain kinds of nuts, and it's bad. When it comes on, she can't breathe and has to inject herself with adrenalin immediately.

"I've been rushed to hospital in Auckland, Rotorua, Taumaranui and Christchurch through eating peanuts," she says.

She's not alone. New research by the University of Auckland over a 10-year period shows the number of New Zealanders ending up in hospital with anaphylaxis is on the rise.

Rates of food-induced anaphylaxis in Pacific Islanders are three times higher than in other ethnicities. It's also higher in Pacific Island children.

Researchers are yet to discover why, but the most common triggers are seafood, nuts and bee or wasp stings.

It's not just an increasing problem in New Zealand; figures here are similar to Australia, where ethnic minorities are also presenting to hospital emergency departments with increasing rates of anaphylaxis.

If anything, researchers think numbers could be on the low side, due to cases of anaphylactic shock being recorded as something else, such as cardiac arrest.

The data backs up what Allergy New Zealand has been experiencing for a while now.

"It's growing at an alarming rate and there's no evidence of any programme or any thinking going into what are we doing about this," says Allergy New Zealand CEO Mark Dixon.

With no cure, Ms Leilua has to be vigilant about knowing what's in her food, and never goes anywhere without her EpiPen.

But they only last 12 months and are $150 a pop. She hopes the Government will one day decide to fund the life-saving device.