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Food Allergy Awareness

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By: Dr. Katie Davis, DNP-FNP

Food allergies are a growing safety and public health concern in the US. Approximately four to six percent of children are affected by food allergies. Ninety percent of serious allergic reactions to food are caused by the following food groups:

  • milk
  • eggs
  • fish
  • shellfish
  • wheat
  • soy
  • peanuts
  • tree nuts

Unfortunately there is no cure for food allergies and avoidance of the food is the only way to prevent a reaction. Prevention of reactions is essential because such reactions can be life threatening.

The immune system (your body’s defense against germs and foreign substances) plays a role in food allergies. While the immune system normally protects people from germs, if you have a food allergy, the immune system overreacts to something that is normally harmless (certain type of food). The symptoms of allergic reactions to foods are different for each person and the severity can change with each exposure. The worst type of reaction, anaphylaxis, is a life-threatening reaction which is sudden and severe, and can cause a skin rash, dizziness, nausea, vomiting, difficulty breathing and shock.

Interestingly, children with food allergies are two to four times more likely to have asthma or other allergic symptoms. Food allergies are also becoming more prevalent with an 18 percent increase during 1997-2007. Food allergies most often develop in the first one to two years of life as the immune system develops and grows. Over time, some food allergies (milk and eggs) tend to be outgrown, but most peanut and tree nut allergies are not.

When one has a food allergy, there is no way to predict how the body will react. Some reactions may be mild while others could be severe or life threatening. If you suspect you or your child may have a food allergy, it is important to discuss with your health care provider. Testing can be done to help determine if there is a food allergy present and a plan can be developed to protect from accidental exposure. Having a specific plan to handle an exposure to a food allergy can mean the difference between life and death.

References:

cdc.gov. (2019). Food Allergies, Healthy Schools, CDC. (online) Accessed 9 Jul 2019.

NIH News in Health. (2019). Understanding Food Allergies. (online) Accessed 9 Jul 2019.