Nearly 1 in 12 US children has some sort of food allergy, according to a national survey, and that number continues to rise. The Food Allergy Initiative website says that someone goes to the emergency room every 3 minutes for an allergic reaction to food.
Types of Food Allergies
Out of 40,000 children, about 8% were allergic to at least one food, with 30% of those being allergic to more than one. There is no specific comparison to show if that percentage is higher than in the past, but the number of patients coming into allergist offices, school records, and other information indicates that it has indeed become more common.
A HealthDay article in Yahoo News explains the symptoms of an allergic reaction:
Allergic reactions to foods can range from mild to severe. In the survey, about 61 percent of food allergic children had a mild to moderate reaction, including swelling of the lips and face, hives, itching, flushing or an eczema flare.
The remaining 39 percent had a severe or even potentially life-threatening reaction known as anaphylaxis — wheezing and trouble breathing, vomiting, swelling, persistent coughing that indicates airway swelling and a dangerous drop in blood pressure.
The most common food allergies are nuts, milk, shellfish, eggs, finned fish, strawberries, wheat and soy, with peanuts topping the list. Fish, nuts and soy are usually associated with anaphylaxis. At this point, the only way to prevent an allergic reaction is to simply avoid the food. This can prove difficult if your child is allergic to a common ingredient for many other foods, so parents should read labels carefully for hidden ingredients.
Food Allergy or Intolerance?
One friend says he is lactose-intolerant, and another says she is allergic to dairy. You may assume it’s the same thing, but the body’s response is actually different (though you should avoid serving dairy to both as a general rule). The Food Allergy Initiative explains the difference on its website:
Although food intolerances share some of the symptoms of food allergies, they do not involve the immune system. They can cause great discomfort but are not life-threatening. People with food intolerances are not able to digest certain foods because their bodies lack the specific enzyme needed to break down that food. For example, if you are lactose intolerant, you are missing the enzyme lactase, which breaks down lactose, a sugar found in milk and other dairy products. The words “gluten intolerance” are sometimes used to describe Celiac disease. However, Celiac disease does involve the immune system and can cause serious complications if left unchecked.
What to Do
Some children eventually grow out of their food allergies, but parents should always have an EpiPen and antihistamine on hand in case their child has a severe reaction. It’s also important to train babysitters, teachers and other caregivers what to do if the child has a reaction and remind them of the seriousness of food allergies.
The study, published in the July issue of Pediatrics, showed that since food allergies are getting more common, children with allergies and their parents should be alert wherever they go to make sure their children aren’t exposed to something dangerous for them.