NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — More than 5 million children suffer from food allergies, which can be fatal. Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt is part of a massive research project to pinpoint what is causing the rapid rise of such allergies in children.

Peanuts, milk, and fish are examples of foods that might be delicious to one child, but deadly for another.

“When I started my career, we did not see nearly this many children with food allergy, and now it’s the bulk of our clinical practices,” said Dr. Leonard Bacharier, a pediatrics professor with Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt.

Bacharier is part of a nationwide study, the largest and only one to date focused on this particular subject, to get to the bottom of what is causing allergic reactions to food among children.

“It’s very real, it’s restrictive to families, it’s frightening, it creates lots of challenges for socialization and other factors,” said Bacharier.

Here’s how the study works: 2,500 children and their mothers across the U.S. will be monitored from pregnancy through at least age 3. By tracking the child at such a young age, researchers are hoping they can spot what’s causing the rapid rise in food allergies in the past 25 years.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), food allergies in children increased by 50% from 1997 to 2011.

“It can’t be genetics, it can’t be anything else, because nothing else changes that quickly,” explained Bacharier. “There’s almost certainly a major environmental shift that has put children at risk of these conditions.”

Researchers will look at changes in diet, environment, and microbes, to name a few. It may be years before they unlock what is causing food allergies and skin conditions like eczema, but one day, their findings could be life-changing.

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“It really gives us a lot of opportunity to really understand disease in a much more comprehensive and development way,” Bacharier said, adding that such critical information could help families in the future.

Researchers have already started accepting applicants for the study. If you are interested in participating, there are still some open spots, and you will compensated for your time