Health Watch: Food Allergies are on the rise, what you should know

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Food allergies are on the rise in the U.S., affecting nearly 15 million people. Every three minutes, a food allergy reaction sends someone to the emergency room. Allergen avoidance and being prepared in case of accidental exposure are key. Clinical trials for desensitization of allergens are underway, but none are approved.

Researchers estimate that 15 million Americans have food allergies, including 5.9 million children under age 18 – 1 in 13 children, or two in every classroom. The prevalence of food allergies increased by 50% in children under 18 years from 1997-2011. Of children under 18, 5.4% suffer from food allergies; however, they are increasing.

A food allergy is an abnormal immune response to a specific food’s protein – seafood, peanuts, tree nuts, cow’s milk, eggs, soy, fruit, wheat.

In some cases, there is a mild reaction. Symptoms may include itchiness; swelling of the tongue, lips or entire face; difficulty swallowing; vomiting; diarrhea; rash; hives; trouble breathing. These often appear within minutes and up to an hour after exposure.

Anaphylaxis is the most severe reaction and occurs almost immediately, making it difficult to breathe. These cases can be life-threatening.

  • Avoidance of all allergens is key. This requires careful reading of labels and stringent cleaning procedures.
  • However, you must be prepared for accidental exposure, which can happen at a restaurant or school, for instance.
  • Testing involves allergy skin tests and/or blood tests.
  • A management plan often involves carrying an Epi-Pen (auto-injectable epinephrine)
  • There is no cure for food allergy. Food allergies are managed by avoiding the problem food and learning to recognize and treat reactions/symptoms.
  • Food allergy therapies are under study in clinical trials – oral, sublingual and epicutaneous immunotherapies – but none has been proven yet for general use.
  • Children with food allergy are two to four times as likely to have other allergic conditions, such as asthma or eczema.

Delaying introduction of allergenic foods does not provide protection against food allergy. In fact, feeding peanut foods early and often to babies with egg allergy or eczema dramatically reduces their risk of developing peanut allergy.

SLUCare Allergy and Immunology specialists are experienced, nationally recognized experts, who are actively involved in developing and updating national and international patient care guidelines for diagnosis and treatment of allergic disorders and asthma. Our physicians are board certified with the American Board of Allergy and Immunology, and are teachers and researchers with Saint Louis University School of Medicine.

To make an appointment with a SLUCare Allergy and Immunology specialist, click here.  Or, call: 314-977-9050

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