What are food allergies? Who has it? Is there a cure?
As with any disease, health challenge or goal in life, we all need to pause and get the straight facts before we lay out our game plan. As the prevalence of food allergies continue to rise in addition to new research and information being surfacing, the facts are always changing. On this page I will do my best to keep the basic facts current on this post. Make sure you check out the links below..these organizations are what I call the mothership of Food Allergy information!
Food Allergy Facts
- An estimated 8% of all children under the age of 18 have food allergies.
- As many as 15 million Americans have food allergies, including approximately 6 million children.
- Food allergy is a growing public health concern in the United States.
- Though reason for this are poorly understood, the prevalence of food allergies and associated anaphylaxis appears to be on the rise.
- The incident of peanut and tree nut allergy among children appears to have tripled between 1997 and 2008.
- Research suggests that food-related anaphylaxis might be under diagnosed.
- The Center for Disease Control reported that food allergies result in over 300,000 ambulatory-care visits a year among children.
- Eight foods account of 90% of all food allergic reactions in the United States: milk, eggs, peanut, tree nuts (i.e., walnuts, almond, cashews, pistachios, pecans), wheat, soy, fish and shell-fish.
- There is no cure for food allergies. Strict avoidance of food allergens and early recognition and management of allergic reactions to food are important measures to prevent serious health consequences.
- Even trace amounts of a food allergen can cause a reaction.
- Most people who’ve had a reaction to something they ate thought that it was safe.
- Food allergies are life-altering for everyone involved and require constant vigilance.
- Early administration of epinephrine (adrenaline) is crucial to successfully treating anaphylactic reactions. Epinephrine is available by prescription in a self-injectable device (Epi Pen® or Twinject®).
Food Allergy Facts courtesy of the Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network.
Food Allergy Definitions
(yes, these really are very important to know)
Before we can roll up our sleeves and down to learning about food allergies, we must first define the difference between a food allergy, food intolerance and reactions to additives. The reason? As a parent of food allergic children I often hear, “oh, my cousin is allergic to milk too, he throws up when he drinks it”. Then I need to explain that my child has life threatening food allergies and will stop breathing if he drink milk…he won’t just vomit. I am very careful to use the words: LIFE THREATENING when I talk about my children’s food allergies.
- A food allergy is an immune system response that creates antibodies to attack substances in a food that your immune system identifies as harmful. In the process, the reaction releases huge stores of chemicals, including histamines, which cause symptoms ranging from a mild case of hives to a potentially life-threatening system shutdown called anaphylactic shock or anaphylaxis. Sometimes you’ll hear us parents say our child has anaphylaxis to an allergen instead of saying allergic to. This sounds more intense and gives us the opportunity to explain anaphylaxis.
- The EIGHT MAJOR ALLERGENS are milk, eggs, peanut, tree nuts (i.e., walnuts, almond, cashews, pistachios, pecans), wheat, soy, fish and shell-fish.
- A food intolerance is the inability to digest a particular food, such as milk or wheat, which is typically related to a missing enzyme in the digestive system that prevents you from fully digesting the food.
- Reactions to food additives such as MSG (monosodium glutamate) and sulfites often cause reactions, but in these cases, the body has a chemical reaction, not an allergic reaction, to the additive, not to the food itself.
- Food allergy is often blamed for many things from migraines to irritable bowel syndrome. Work with your doctor to identify the real cause of your symptoms. Don’t try to guess at this yourself!
Food Allergy to do list…
- Learn to read food labels.
- Learn to recognize ingredients in foods
- Ask about your food allergen when away from home
- Join the Food Allergy and Anaphylactic Network (FAAN) or be a frequent visitor on their websites to learn more about food allergies and to stay up-to-date on news and food ingredient alerts.
- Have your Emergency Action Plan in place at home, at school and on the road.
- Learn signs of a reaction.
- Carry at least one (two is best) unexpired auto-injector of epinephrine (Epi Pen®).
- Wear a Medic Alert at all times.
Epi Pens®=rescue medications
The rules are super simple:
- Always have two Epi Pens® on your body or only within seconds of easy access. Never leave home without it and keep back-ups in case you forgot your backpack, purse or carrier. We keep back-ups in my purse for our children.
- Check expiration dates and keep current.
- Do not store in your car or allow your Epi Pens® to get too cold or too hot.
- Make sure your friends and co-workers, etc., know how to use your Epi Pen® and where you keep it.
- Check out my Epi Pen® blog that offers more resources.
- Check out my Emergency Medicine Kit blog to see how and what to carry with your Epi Pen®.
Label Reading Basics
Label reading a very important strategy for avoiding a reaction
- Learn the common names for your allergen.
- Be on the look out for un-expected foods containing your allergen (sesame seed in chili sauce, etc.).
- Understand labeling laws so you truly understand what is required by law on a label.
- Evaluate the risk and make an educated decision.
- Read my blog, Can you Confidently Read A Label? for more information and tips.
Visit my Food Allergy Resources Pagefor more informationFact checker:
National Institute of Health
American Academy of Allergy Asthma and Immunology Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network Food Allergies for Dummies Mayo Clinic