KEY TAKEAWAY: Because allergies can cause stress, pain, discomfort, and sleep deprivation, they can also contribute to irritability, hyperactivity, and otherwise aggravate the behavioural symptoms in autistic children.
“Practicing physicians should be aware of the potential impact of allergic diseases on behavioral symptoms and cognitive activity in ASD children.”Jyonouchi, H., 2010. Autism spectrum disorders and allergy: observation from a pediatric allergy/immunology clinic. Expert. Rev. Clin. Immunol. 6, 397-¬411.
An allergy is an immediate immune reaction to foods or other particles, which is mediated by immunoglobulin E (IgE) antibodies within seconds or minutes of exposure to the allergens. Common allergies include asthma, hay-fever (allergic rhinitis), and eczema (atopic dermatitis).
Having allergies is a sign of a dysregulated immune system, which is extremely common in autistic children. This means that you need to identify and address as many factors as possible that are causing your child’s immune system to be overactive or otherwise unbalanced.
Testing for allergies is one of the things you ought to do early on in your child’s health-building program. Luckily, this is a relatively inexpensive and easy thing you can do in most clinics.
Two common ways to test for allergies are:
- Skin prick or patch testing using small amounts of allergens, to see if any cause a reaction
- Blood testing to detect IgE antibodies
Naturally, If any allergens are identified, you will need to steer clear of them as best as you can.
A Brief Look at the Research
Researchers have shown that there is a higher prevalence of allergies in autistic individuals.
For example, one large study found that asthma was 35% more common in autistic children than their peers.
Another one found a higher risk of developing asthma and other allergic disorders in autistic individuals.
As I discuss in chapter two of my book, Autism Wellbeing Plan: How to Get Your CHild Healthy, allergies are often overlooked in autistic children and can cause serious distress.
“It has been our experience that in ASD children, behavioral changes caused by both IgE- and non-IgE-mediated diseases are often attributed to just being ‘autistic’ and no proper diagnosis and treatment for the child’s condition was implemented prior to their arrival at our facility. Our observation indicates the need for physicians involved in the care of ASD children to be aware of the importance of diagnosing common allergic as well as nonallergic diseases in these children. It is also important for the physician to not attribute certain symptoms displayed by ASD children to just being ‘autistic’, even if the symptoms are frequently associated with ASD.”Jyonouchi, H., 2010. Autism spectrum disorders and allergy: observation from a pediatric allergy/immunology clinic. Expert. Rev. Clin. Immunol. 6, 397-¬411.
In some cases, allergies may influence autism severity and some core behaviours. Researchers have found children with more severe autism to have a higher prevalence of allergic disorders.
Another paper I read reported that autistic children not only had more allergies than neurotypical controls, but the autistic children who had gut issues had more allergic disorders than those without gut symptoms. (As I often like to remind folks, trouble in the gut will cause trouble in many other areas of body.) The researchers also noted that autism severity was associated with higher blood IgE levels (which are markers for allergies). Simply put, children with higher allergic markers tended to have more severe ASD symptoms.
As you can see, allergies can play a factor in not only diminishing children’s quality of life, but may even contribute to behavioural and other symptoms, including hyperactivity and irritability. Thankfully, they are relatively easy to identify and address, and this can have a tremendously positive impact on your child’s health and quality of life.
- Jyonouchi, H., 2010. Autism spectrum disorders and allergy: observation from a pediatric allergy/immunology clinic. Expert. Rev. Clin. Immunol. 6, 397-411.
- Goyal, Daniel & Miyan, Jaleel. (2014). Neuro-Immune Abnormalities in Autism and Their Relationship with the Environment: A Variable Insult Model for Autism. Frontiers in endocrinology. 5. 29. 10.3389/fendo.2014.00029.
- Kotey, S., Ertel, K., and Whitcomb, B. (2014). Co-occurrence of autism and asthma in a nationally-representative sample of children in the United States. J. Autism Dev. Disord. 44, 3083-3088. doi: 10.1007/s10803-014-2174-y.
- Chen, M.-H., Su, T.-P., Chen, Y.-S., Hsu, J.-W., Huang, K.-L., Chang, W.-H., et al. (2013). Comorbidity of allergic and autoimmune diseases in patients with autism spectrum disorder: a nationwide population-based study. Res. Autism Spectr. Disord. 7, 205-212. doi: 10.1016/j.rasd.2012.08.008.
- Shibata, A., Hitomi, Y., Kambayashi, Y., Hibino, Y., Yamazaki, M., Mitoma, J., et al. (2013). Epidemiological study on the involvements of environmental factors and allergy in child mental health using the Autism Screening Questionnaire. Res. Autism Spectr. Disord. 7, 132140. doi: 10.1016/j.rasd.2012.06.003.
- Mostafa, G. A., Hamza, R. T., and El-Shahawi, H. H. (2008). Allergic manifestations in autistic children: relation to disease severity. J. Pediatr. Neurol. 6, 115-¬123. doi: 10.1055/s-0035-1557446.