There has been a 72% rise in hospital admissions over the past five years for children with severe allergic reactions, figures show.
The data – obtained by a foundation set up by the parents of Natasha Ednan-Laperouse, who died after eating a Pret a Manger baguette – shows a rise in cases of anaphylactic shock among those aged 18 and under.
The NHS Digital figures show there were 1,746 hospital admissions for anaphylactic shock in children in 2018/19, up from 1,015 in 2013/14 – a 72% rise.
When adults are included, there has been a 34% jump from 4,107 cases to 5,497.
The new NHS data shows a wide regional variation in hospital admissions for children with anaphylactic shock with London seeing the biggest rise of admissions, rising 167%, from 180 in 2013/14 to 480 in 2018/19 in the capital. Among children aged 10 and under, the increase was 200%, from 110 to 330.
The NHS Digital data showed that the East Midlands region recorded the second highest increase in hospital admissions for children – up by 145% across the six years.
Third came the East of England where the rise was 84%, followed by the West Midlands (59%), North West (56%), Yorkshire and the Humber (50%), South West (24%) and South East (22%).
In the North East, the number remained static.
Natasha died aged 15 in 2016 after suffering a severe allergic reaction to an artichoke, olive and tapenade baguette.
The product contained sesame seed, to which Natasha was allergic, but this was not listed on the label.
Her parents have campaigned for a change in the law around food labelling and in June the Government announced “Natasha’s Law” will come into force in 2021.
This will require foods that are pre-packed directly for sale to carry a full list of ingredients.
Natasha’s mother, Tanya Ednan-Laperouse, from the Natasha Allergy Research Foundation, said: “These terrifying figures show we are facing an allergy emergency.
“The number of children with allergies and suffering severe allergic reactions is rising year-on-year at a deeply alarming rate.
“Scientists don’t yet understand why the numbers of children with allergies are on the rise, which is why it is vital that we invest in large-scale research projects into both the causes and potential cures."
Anaphylaxis is a severe and potentially life-threatening reaction to a trigger, with food such as nuts, milk, fish, shellfish, eggs and some fruits a common cause.
Symptoms include feeling light-headed or faint, breathing difficulties or fast, shallow breathing, wheezing, a fast heartbeat, losing consciousness and a severe rash.
Many allergy specialists agree that children are more likely than ever to develop food allergies, possibly due to changes in the environment.
A rise in hospital admissions is thought unlikely to be just due to increasing awareness of allergies and better diagnosis.
Hasan Arshad, professor of allergy and clinical immunology at the University of Southampton, said: “These new figures confirm what we know is a worrying increase in severe food allergy.
“We should not forget that behind each of these numbers is a child or adult who has suffered the most severe consequences of an anaphylactic shock.
“For far too long, allergies have been considered a minor inconvenience. It is time for us all to focus on preventing and curing allergy.”