Reporter: Graeme Butler

In almost every way Ethan is like any other child - likes playing like any other kid... but there's a game he's had to learn that could one day save his life. "You take the lid off - take the lid off and bang like that, and give it a rub and that will make you better" The epi-pen Ethan must carry everywhere he goes - it's a life-saving shot of adrenalins should he have an allergic reaction and go into anaphylactic shock.. It's something his mum Dee deals with every minute of the day. "The main problem in our house is Ethan he is anaphylactic to peanut which is a pretty big thing it's a life or death thing"

"Australia is the allergy nation" Professor Susan Prescott from the University of Western Australia's school of paediatrics and child health is heading the study at Princess Margaret Hospital. "In our clinic alone here at PMH we're receiving more than 40 or 50 new referrals every week with serious allergies we can hardly keep up with this"

Why allergies in Australia are increasing at such a dramatic rate remains a mystery but 40% of all kids now suffer from one allergy or another. Researchers here are trying to find out why. Susan Prescott says "we have to understand why this is occurring and wheat we can do about it"

To help learn more about allergies a study is being conducted by recruiting 1500 new mums and their babies from Perth and Adelaide. Susan says "we are very keen to hear from pregnant mothers who have allergies themselves and who are worried about their children developing allergies because we want to study the sorts of factors that they might be exposed to in pregnancy that might be contributing to allergy risk"

Babies taking part in the study will be given either an egg power or placebo to see how they react. "In our new studies we're actually looking at early regular introduction of some of these allergenic foods to see whether we can actually switch off the allergic response before it happens"

Ella and her baby William joined the study after he started suffering from Eczema. "We haven't been able to pinpoint any particular foods that might have set off their eczema and it was interesting for Will to take part in the egg study and once he had the skin prick test to find out that there weren't any particular allergens that he was allergic to so we can sort of relax a little bit now knowing that there weren't any specific ones that have set him off"

The egg study is only one of the research projects striving to unlock the secret of why allergies are increasing so dramatically. Nina says "because we know that it's factors to do with Westernisation that are most likely affecting allergy development obviously a multitude of things that are possible and it's very hard to separate"

Nina D'Vaz is a PHD student involved with the allergy research projects..."we did a previous study where we gave mothers fish oil from 20 weeks pregnancy through to birth. It showed that that had an effect on whether the infants developed allergies in the first year of life"

The research hopes to discover if early exposure to egg can reduce the chance of allergies later in's a small step in the big race towards a cure. Dee says "if they can prevent another family having to go through this having to even see their child in that state oh my goodness I'd be so happy"

Further Details

Childhood Allergy and Immunology Research

UWA School of Pediatrics and Child Health

Princess Margaret Hospital for Children

Tel: (08) 9340 8834 OFFICE HOURS