Toms River, NJ, December 4, 2009 – Food allergies cause more than 30,000 trips to the emergency room each year, and between 150 to 200 deaths annually. Of the approximately 11 million Americans who suffer from food allergies, three million of them are children under the age of 18.
“A food allergy is a physiological reaction caused when the immune system mistakenly identifies a normally harmless food as damaging to the body. In an attempt to “protect” the body, the immune system produces antibodies to that food”, says Eileen Keating, RD, chief clinical dietitian at Community Medical Center.
Ingestion of the offending food may trigger the sudden release of chemicals, including histamine, resulting in a cascade of allergic symptoms that can affect the skin, respiratory system, gastrointestinal system, or cardiovascular system.
“Some reactions can be mild and involve only one body system, like hives on the skin. Other reactions can be more serious and involve two or more body systems, also known as anaphylaxis. This is a sudden, potentially life-threatening allergic reaction. Anaphylaxis can cause swelling of the airway, serious breathing difficulty, a drop in blood pressure, loss of consciousness, and in some cases, even death.. Anaphylaxis is responsible for an estimated 2,000 hospitalizations each year,” Keating says.
One of the biggest frustrations for sufferers is that there is no cure. And for one out of every 25 children, it can have a major affect on their childhood. “Imagine not being able to have a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. For many kids, that’s a reality. Currently, there are no medications that cure food allergies,” observes Keating.
The most common food allergies are milk, eggs, peanuts and soy, followed by wheat, tree nuts (walnut, cashew, etc.), fish and shellfish. Unfortunately, the only real way to find out if you have a food allergy is the hard way – when you have a reaction, Keating says.
Symptoms range from a tingling sensation in the mouth, swelling of the tongue and the throat, difficulty breathing, hives, vomiting, abdominal cramps, diarrhea, drop in blood pressure, loss of consciousness, to death. Symptoms occur within minutes to two hours after contact with the allergy-causing substance, but in rare instances may occur up to four hours later.
“Strict avoidance of the allergy-causing food is the only way to avoid a reaction. Reading ingredient labels for all foods is the key to avoiding a reaction. Ask questions about ingredients and preparation methods when eating away from home,” comments Keating.
If symptoms are severe, or resemble anaphylaxis, emergency medical help should be sought immediately.
The medication of choice for controlling a severe reaction is Epinephrine, also called adrenaline. It is available by prescription as an EpiPen® auto injector and should be carried with you at all times if you have a food allergy.
Parents should check with their child’s pediatrician if they suspect a food allergy. Tests are available to determine if an allergy exists.
Children typically outgrow their allergies to milk, egg, soy and wheat, while allergies to peanuts, tree nuts and shellfish usually are not outgrown.
To find an allergist in your area, call Community Medical Center’s free physician referral service at 1-888-724-7123.
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