Food Allergy Facts
Types of Food Allergy
A food allergy is a type of medical abnormality that occurs when an individual eats a food that triggers a harmful immune response. The immune system attacks the proteins in the problem food, which triggers a reaction called allergens.
Symptoms may range from a mild response to a serious one. A mild response causes an itchy mouth or a few hives. A more severe response may cause throat swelling and a problem with breathing. Anaphylaxis is a life-0threatening reaction that can even cause death. Children (about 40%) that have food allergies to more than one food must avoid the offending food as that is the only treatment at this time, however, some food allergies are outgrown.
It is estimated that 32 million people have food allergies in the United States, according to research. Approximately 5.6 million children (under 18 years of age) have food allergies.
Children’s Food Allergies
Most Common Food Allergies
While there are 160 foods that can cause food allergies, approximately 90% of food allergies are due to tree nuts. Food allergies result in 30,000 emergency room visits, 2,000 hospitalizations and 150 deaths annually.
The most common food allergies include:
- Tree nuts (walnuts, almonds, pistachios, cashews, pecans)
- Fish (flounder, cod, bass, etc)
- Shellfish (crab, lobster, shrimp)
Peanut allergies are found in 0.6-1.0% of all people, and the symptoms also range from mild to severe.
The law requires that common food allergies be listed on food labels. Reading labels is essential if you have food allergies.
Food Allergy Symptoms
Knowing the symptoms of food allergies is important as mild symptoms one time could be life threatening the second time.
The common symptoms are:
- Rash or flushed looking skin
- A tingling or itchy sensation in the mouth
- Facial. Tongue or lip swelling
- Vomiting or diarrhea
- Abdominal cramping
- Coughing or wheezing
- Lightheadedness and/or dizziness
- Swelling in the throat and vocal cords
- Difficulty breathing
- Loss of consciousness
Are You at a Higher Risk for Food Allergies?
Your family history may be a factor if they have had asthma, eczema, hives or allergies. Just being allergic to one type of food puts you at an increased risk for being allergic to other foods. Age is a factor, particularly before the digestive system matures. Infants and toddlers are much more likely to have food allergies. Asthma and food allergies offen occur simultaneously.
Some factors increase the risk for an anaphylactic reaction. They include not treating a more severe reaction with epinephrine in a timely fashion. Just being a teen or a young child increases the risk. Having asthma and oddly enough, not having hives or any skin reaction when you have food allergy increases your risk of anaphylaxis.
Skin Prick Test—John Hopkins Hospital
Increase in Food Allergies
The prevalence of food allergies in children has increased by 50% between 1997 and 2011, according to the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention. In particular, the prevalence of peanut and tree nut allergies have more than tripled in children of the USA. Only 20% of children outgrow their peanut allergy, and only 4%-5% of children outgrow seafood allergies.
Working with a doctor, like an allergist, is a good idea. They can treat your child and help manage their allergies as they grow.
Many factors have contributed to the increase in allergies in children:
- A damp or insanitary environment, especially true in some foreign countries
- The use of antacids for children
- The increased use of multivitamins
- Eating more of the most allergenic foods, like fish, peanuts, soy
- Eating out in restaurants as you do not have complete control over ingredients
- Too many processed foods can trigger an allergic reaction
These factors may result in an immune system that does not fight infections, which can certainly be dangerous.
Child Seeing Doctor
Prevention and Treatments for Food Allergies
Prevention is the best treatment, which means you must always know exactly what you are eating. If you have had a more serious reaction, then wear a medical alert bracelet.
Severe reactions require an epinephrine auto-injector (Adrenaclick, EpiPen), which would be prescribed by your doctor. The copay on insurance can be expensive, but this pen can save you life. Be extremely careful in restaurants, even asking the chef about ingredients is important. Be sure the school knows that your child has food allergies.
A new medication has been developed to treat peanut allergies for children. The New England Journal of Medicine published the information about the AR101 medication. In the study they delivered a controlled daily dose of peanut protein to build up a tolerance over time, which will minimize the dangers of accidental exposure to peanuts. The FDA is expected to approve this medication in the near future.
Food allergies have become a serious problem for many people, so prevention is the key to eating in a safe fashion