Food Allergy Awareness Week

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KNOW THE FACTS

Talking about food allergies leads to understanding and educating people on what to do.

There it sits on the table. A single peanut. So seemingly innocent. So tastefully tempting. But to so many people, this legume is a potential death sentence. As the second most common food allergy in children, occurring in about one in 50 children and in one in 200 adults, the peanut is the most likely food to cause anaphylaxis and death. Within mere moments after exposure, symptoms can arise and may include skin hives, redness or swelling; a runny nose; and itching or tingling in or around the mouth and throat. Anaphylaxis, the life-threating whole body response to the peanut invader, requires prompt medical attention and treatment.

But peanuts are not the only food allergy affecting millions of Americans. In fact, approximately 32 million Americans are affected by food allergies, including 5.6 million under the age of 18. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has reported that, even though food allergies are more prevalent in children than in adults, many of those affected children can potentially outgrow food allergies as they get older.

From May 10-16, 2020, Food Allergy Awareness Week offers an opportunity to raise awareness of food allergies and anaphylaxis. This week gives individuals and companies an avenue to work together and educate each other and their communities on food allergy basics, food allergens, signs and symptoms of anaphylaxis, treatment and management, cross contact, food labeling, psychological impacts and more. Understanding food allergens begins with education. One simple statement can change how one views food allergies and anaphylaxis.

What is a Food Allergy?

In short, it is a response by the immune system to a food the body mistakes for something harmful. When someone with a food allergy eats such food, that individual’s immune system will release significant amounts of chemicals, including histamine, all of which trigger a multitude of symptoms that can affect the respiratory system, the gastrointestinal tract, the skin and/or the cardiovascular system.

Managing a food allergy day in and day out requires constant focus. Even trace amounts of an allergen have been known to trigger an allergic reaction in some people. In some cases, food allergy deaths have occurred, even in people with a history of mild reactions in the past. Anaphylaxis can come on quickly and can be life-threatening.

The Real Statistics

Every three minutes, a food allergy reaction will send someone to the emergency room. More than 40% of children with food allergies have experienced anaphylaxis. Each year in the United States, more than 200,000 individuals require emergency medical care as a result of allergic reactions to food.

The Major Food Allergens

It has been reported that 170 foods cause allergic reactions. The eight major allergens are milk, egg, peanuts, tree nuts, wheat, soy, fish and crustacean shellfish. Recently, sesame has become a concerning food allergen. It is important to understand that a food allergy is not the same thing as a food intolerance. Unlike an allergy that involves the immune system, a food intolerance involves the digestive system due to a missing enzyme needed to digest and process a certain food.

Immediate Treatment Measures

Once anaphylaxis sets in, the only effective treatment is the drug epinephrine. This must be injected within minutes of the onset of any symptoms. In some cases, more than one dose may be necessary. If the individual is not treated promptly with epinephrine, the risk of a fatal reaction increases.

Minimize the Risk

At present, there is no cure for food allergies. The goal, then, is to minimize the risk. Eat at home whenever possible. Avoid high-risk types of dining and food establishments. This would include bakeries, buffets and deli stations due to the risk of cross contact; ethnic places because of the language barrier; and Asian cuisine, due to the use of peanuts and tree nuts commonly used in recipes.

Other ways to minimize the risk is to wash your hands frequently; don’t share food; educate yourself and others on food allergies; seek immediate medical help if a food allergic friend or family member feels sick; and familiar yourself with food the common food allergens and related safety protocols. Above all, remain empathetic for those who do suffer from food allergies.

Final Thoughts

Remember! A food allergy is not a food intolerance. Anaphylaxis is a serious allergic reaction to food allergies. Past reactions to a certain food allergy do not determine future reactions. Eating away from home can significantly increase one’s risk of an allergic reaction to food. Prompt administration of epinephrine is critical to surviving what could be a life-threatening situation. Therefore, it is important to have an allergy awareness plan. You should also consult with an allergy specialist for any concerns you might have about food allergies.

Sources: foodallergyawareness.org, foodallergy.org

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