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.