Evening Bulletin (Philly):Allergic Reactions: More Common, More Serious
Allergic Reactions: More Common, More Serious
By Julie Zauzmer , The Bulletin
Nuts, fish, milk, eggs - for most people, this sounds like a normal grocery list. But for 12 million Americans, these foods and others carry the risk of a trip to the emergency room.
Food allergies - serious and potentially fatal reactions to common foods - are becoming more and more common in America. Roughly 1 in 25 of us suffer from food allergies. For reasons unknown to scientists, this number is on the rise. Four percent of U.S. adults have food allergies, but among children under 4, six to eight percent have this condition. Between 1997 and 2002, the prevalence of peanut allergies doubled in children. Today, 1 in 17 children under 3 have been diagnosed with food allergies.
Simply touching, smelling or eating a tiny particle of the offending food can trigger anaphylactic shock within minutes, a severe reaction that can manifest itself in hives, vomiting, abdominal cramps, diarrhea, tightening of the throat, difficulty breathing, drop in blood pressure, loss of consciousness, and death.
Anaphylactic reactions to foods cause 30,000 emergency room visits each year, and 150 to 200 people die annually due to a reaction.
Food allergies are caused when the immune system labels innocent foods as dangerous. The body creates antibodies to these foods and releases enormous amounts of harmful chemicals when the offending food is ingested.
While a person can be allergic to any food, including fruits, vegetables and meats, eight foods account for 90 percent of reactions - milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, fish, shellfish, soy and wheat. Most people outgrow their allergies, but peanuts, tree nuts, fish and shellfish are generally lifelong allergies.
There is currently no cure for food allergies. The only treatment is strict avoidance of the food, which can be very difficult. Cross-contamination can cause reactions, and even touching a surface that has come in contact with the food, smelling it, or kissing someone who has eaten it can be dangerous. Even with assiduous avoidance of the food, experts predict that one in four food allergic individuals will suffer an accidental reaction each year.