Children with allergies at lower risk of appendicitis, new study finds

Photo: Shutterstock
Photo: Shutterstock 

Children with allergies have a lower risk of developing complicated appendicitis, a Swedish study has found.

Appendicitis is one of the most common causes of emergency abdominal surgery worldwide, and is widespread among children and young people. And about one third of children develop a more complicated form of appendicitis, requiring longer hospital stays and more risk.

It's unclear why some children are prone to having a more dangerous appendicitis episode and if there is anything that could prevent it. However, one theory suggests that the seriousness of appendicitis is dependent on your body's immunological responses and that kids with allergies react differently to those without allergies.

To test the theory, a team from Skåne University Hospital in Sweden examined children who had been admitted to hospital with appendicitis. 

"In a study of all the children who underwent surgery for appendicitis in Lund, Sweden, over the span of a decade, we found that the most common form of allergy, such as allergy to pollen and animal fur, was associated with a three times lower risk of developing complicated appendicitis," researcher at Lund University and physician at Skåne University Hospital Martin Salö said.

"The lower risk remained when we adjusted for other parameters known to increase the risk of serious appendicitis, such as lower age and long-lasting symptoms."

The study examined the records of 605 children under the age of 15 who underwent surgery for appendicitis at Skåne University Hospital in Lund between 2007 and 2017.

Of those children admitted to hospital, 102 children had what was known as an IgE-mediated allergy and the remaining 503 children did not have any allergies. The results were quite significant with just 19.6 per cent of kids with the IgE-mediated allergy contracting more complicated appendicitis compared to 46.9 per cent of non-allergy children affected.

"The outcome of the study supports the theory that complicated appendicitis has a different immunological development compared to uncomplicated appendicitis," he said. "The results also provide clues that we hope can lead to the development of new diagnostic aids such as blood tests."

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Dr Ryan Harvey from House Call Doctor said the study confirmed that the immune system of a child with allergies worked differently to other kids with no allergies.

"We know the essential problem with allergies is a change in the normal way the immune system functions," Dr Harvey said. "Appendicitis is usually a result of the appendix being blocked and bacteria growth increasing within it causing infection. The immune system fights the infection in appendicitis, the same immune system that comes into action when you experience an allergy.  

"The theory would be that an allergy kid's immune system fights the appendicitis in a different way, which results in a lower occurrence of complicated appendicitis as compared to non-allergy kids whom contract appendicitis."

While treatment would be similar for both complicated and non-complicated appendicitis, those without complications would recover quicker.

"It is good news because when a kid with an allergy is afflicted with appendicitis they are less likely to develop a complicated form and therefore more likely to have an easier time throughout the treatment and better outcomes," he said. 

Dr Harvey said the typical signs of appendicitis are lower abdominal pain particularly to the right side (which is where the appendix is located), fever, vomiting and a child not wanting to eat.  

"It can be difficult to distinguish appendicitis from common gastroenteritis in the early stages of appendicitis, but once the infection of the appendix is established it will continue to get worse and the child will continue to get sicker without treatment," he said. "If a parents suspect their child has appendicitis they should immediately take their child to see their usual doctor that day or if unavailable present to the local emergency department for assessment."