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Allergies may protect against complicated appendicitis in children

Ground-breaking research attempts to link allergies with the outcome of appendicitis in children for the first time.

The prospect of appendicitis in children can be a scary thought for parents when their child complains of a tummy ache. The appendix is a finger-like projection from the colon that can become inflamed. In complicated appendicitis, the condition can progress from causing pain and discomfort, to potentially life-threatening rupture and leakage of bacteria into the abdomen.

Little is known about the causes of appendicitis or even the purpose of the appendix itself. Even less is known about possible routes of prevention. However, recent thought among researchers has suggested that the cells of the immune system may have a role to play in whether the appendicitis is complicated or uncomplicated.

Same immune cells involved in allergies and appendicitis

The types of immune cells seen commonly in uncomplicated appendicitis are the same ones that are seen in some types of allergy. The allergies in question are the specific IgE-mediated allergies, which include food, pollen, and fur allergies.

To further investigate the intriguing possibility of an association, a team of researchers from Sweden designed a research project and published their findings in JAMA Pediatrics. They looked back at ten years of medical records of all children in their hospital under the age of 15 years old who had had their appendix removed. They then looked to see if there was an association between having an allergy and the outcome of appendicitis in children.

Children with allergies  had a lower risk of complicated appendicitis

The results showed that just 20% of children with allergies developed complicated appendicitis. In contrast, almost 50% of children without any allergies developed complicated appendicitis. From this, the authors concluded that children with an IgE-mediated allergy had a lower risk of complicated appendicitis.

The implications of these findings are huge. A large door through which researchers can enter and maybe understand better the causes of appendicitis and the risks for developing the complicated form has just become wide open. Findings from such research may even offer preventative or therapeutic options.

Whilst the prospect of appendicitis remains a scary thought for parents for the time being, researchers have their work cut out for them. As the authors admit, these research results have generated more questions than they have answered.

Written by Nicola Cribb, VetMB DVSc Dip.ACVS

Reference: Salö M, Gudjonsdottir J, Omling E, Hagander L, Stenström P. Association of IgE-Mediated Allergy With Risk of Complicated Appendicitis in a Pediatric Population. JAMA Pediatrics. 2018. doi:10.1001/jamapediatrics.2018.1634.

Nicola Cribb
Nicola Cribb
Nicola obtained her Veterinary and Master’s degrees from the University of Cambridge, UK, and Doctor of Veterinary Science from the University of Guelph, Canada. She is board-certified in surgery and has research interests in minimally-invasive surgery. She has worked in a clinical setting, as well as research and teaching disciplines for the past 16 years at the University of Guelph, where she is currently Adjunct Faculty. She is a freelance medical writer and reviews, authors, and co-authors publications and reviews in scientific journals and books.
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