A food allergy is an immune system response in which the body identifies a harmless food protein as dangerous and battles it by creating antibodies, setting off an allergic reaction. Nearly 15 million people in the United States have food allergies, though children are affected the most. Food allergy incidents seem to be on the rise, along with the costs associated. Children’s food allergies cost nearly $25 billion a year, which has prompted many health agencies to increase research about this life-threatening condition in hopes of saving money and lives.
Food allergies often cause anaphylaxis, a severe life-threatening reaction that leads to difficulty breathing, lowering of blood pressure, and swelling of the throat. Every year in the U.S., anaphylactic reactions to food lead to roughly 30,000 emergency room visits and 150 deaths. Unfortunately, there’s no cure for these dangerous food allergies. If you think you or your children may have a food allergy, talk to your doctor about testing, symptoms to watch for, important food allergy facts, and what to do in case of an allergic reaction. Your conversation could be a lifesaver.
While there are more than 160 foods that cause allergic reactions, only 8 key ones are identified by the Federal Drug Administration (FDA) to be the most common food allergens. Seafood and peanut allergies top the list as the most prevalent. The list includes fish, crustacean shellfish, peanuts, milk, eggs, tree nuts, wheat, and soybeans.
Because food allergies can be life threatening and are triggered by ingredients found in many of our favorite foods, the FDA created the Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act of 2004. This legislation helps protect Americans from the health risk of food allergies by requiring the FDA to label foods with the food source names of any ingredients on the list of top 8 food allergens. If the ingredient includes the allergen in the name, like buttermilk, then it meets the requirement. Otherwise the key allergen is listed in parentheses next to the ingredient or in a list of allergens the product contains.
Food allergies are a growing health problem and many health agencies are dedicating funding and research to improving prevention and treatment. As peanut allergies becomea more common and dangerous, people with this allergy have to be vigilant about prevention. The good news is the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases recently issued new guidelines that recommend introducing peanut-containing foods to infants to prevent the development of peanut allergies. Parents and caregivers should work with their healthcare provider to learn more about immunotherapy guidelines before introducing peanuts to their children.
With all this talk about the dangers of food allergies, it’s important to know the difference between allergies and intolerances. True food allergies cause a variety of symptoms that are often severe and can become life threatening. Allergy symptoms range from hives, rash, swelling of the mouth, and vomiting to difficulty breathing, swelling of the throat, and loss of consciousness. Food intolerance is not life threatening and causes milder digestive problems like gas, bloating and nausea. It’s important to know the difference, so you can get medical attention quickly if you experience an allergic reaction.