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Social media as a tool for the management of food allergy in children

Alvarez-Perea A1,2, Cabrera-Freitag P1, Fuentes-Aparicio V1,2, Infante S1,2, Zapatero L1,2, Zubeldia JM1,2,3

1Allergy Service, Hospital General Universitario Gregorio Marañón, Madrid, Spain
2Gregorio Marañón Health Research Institute, Madrid, Spain
3Biomedical Research Network on Rare Diseases (CIBERER)-U761, Madrid, Spain

J Investig Allergol Clin Immunol 2018; Vol. 28(4)
doi: 10.18176/jiaci.0235

Background: Food allergy heavily impairs quality of life. Avoiding the offending food requires extensive patient education. Social media have been proven a useful source of information for other chronic conditions. Our aim was to describe how pediatric patients with food allergy and their families are using social media.
Methods: We performed a cross-sectional study in the Pediatric Allergy Unit of a third-level hospital. Patients with food allergy were surveyed about their disease and the use of social media. Patients over 13 years filled in the survey themselves, while parents or guardians did in the case of younger patients.
Results: We included 193 patients (162 guardians, 31 adolescents). Social media was used by 109 guardians (67.3%) and 29 adolescents (90.3%), of which 30.3% and 6.9%, respectively, used them for food allergy-allergy related purposes. Most popular websites were Facebook™ for guardians (52.2%) and YouTube™ among teenagers (80.6%). Having cow’s milk and/or egg allergy was the only feature related to using social media for food allergy.
Utilizing social media for food allergy information, did not correlate with the frequency of recent reactions, self-scored knowledge about food allergy or the opinion on evidence-based or alternative therapies for their disease.
Conclusions: Most patients and guardians of patients with food allergy used social media. However, only a small portion accessed them for increasing the knowledge of their disease. 

Key words: Social media, Internet, Food allergy, Paediatrics, Information