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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) : 233-240
doi: 10.18176/jiaci.0235

Background: Food allergy markedly impairs quality of life, and 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 tertiary hospital. Patients with food allergy were questioned about their disease and their use of social media. The survey was completed by the patients themselves in the case of those aged over 13 years and by parents or guardians in the case of younger patients.
Results: We included 193 patients (162 guardians, 31 adolescents). Social media were used by 109 guardians (67.3%) and 29 adolescents (90.3%), of whom 30.3% and 6.9%, respectively, used them for food allergy–related purposes. The most popular websites were Facebook for guardians (52.2%) and YouTube for teenagers (80.6%). Having cow’s milk and/or egg allergy was the only feature related to using social media for food allergy. Using social media for information on food allergy did not correlate with the frequency of recent reactions, self-scored knowledge about food allergy, or opinion on evidence-based or alternative therapies for the disease.
Conclusions: Most patients and guardians of patients with food allergy used social media. However, only a small portion accessed used them to increase their knowledge of the disease.

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