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Food Allergies are Nothing to Sneeze at!

Enjoying a yummy meal is one of life’s great pleasures. For those who suffer from food allergies, however, that great pleasure can actually trigger a life-threatening reaction. ATRIO Health Plans is particularly concerned about the nearly six-million children in America with food allergies, and is working to increase awareness about this potentially deadly condition.

Allergic Reactions

A food allergy is an immune-system reaction that occurs soon after consuming a specific food. Common food-allergy symptoms include:

  • tingling or itching in the mouth;
  • hives, itchy skin, or eczema;
  • swelling of the lips, face, tongue, throat, or other parts of the body;
  • wheezing, nasal congestion, or trouble breathing;
  • abdominal pain, diarrhea, nausea, or vomiting;
  • dizziness, lightheadedness, or fainting.

In its most severe form, a food allergy can trigger a possibly fatal reaction called anaphylaxis. Among the symptoms of anaphylaxis are:

  • constriction and tightening of the airways;
  • a swollen throat or the sensation of a lump in your throat;
  • difficulty breathing;
  • shock;
  • significant drop in blood pressure;
  • rapid pulse;
  • dizziness, lightheadedness, or loss of consciousness.

If a specific food is identified as an allergen, then avoidance of that particular food is the first line of defense. Avoidance, however, isn’t always possible, especially when eating prepared food for which all ingredients used may not be known. As a result, people with food allergies should always carry auto-injectable epinephrine in the event of an anaphylactic reaction.

Common Food Allergens

The most common food allergens are the proteins found in:

  • cow’s milk;
  • eggs;
  • peanuts;
  • wheat;
  • soy;
  • fish;
  • shellfish;
  • tree nuts (such as walnuts and pecans).

Children and Food Allergies

One in 13 children in America has a food allergy. This risk rises to a one in three chance if one parent has a food allergy. If both parents suffer from a food allergy, their offspring's risk skyrockets to 50 percent.

In recent years, the number of people diagnosed with a peanut allergy has nearly quadrupled, making it the leading cause of death attributable to a food allergy. In response, the National Institutes of Health (NIH)—earlier this year—issued guidelines designed to prevent peanut allergies.

  • Infants at high risk due to severe eczema and/or an egg allergy should be given peanut-enriched foods between the ages of four to six months. First, however, parents should discuss this with their healthcare provider.
  • Infants who've already tested positive for a peanut sensitivity should only be introduced to peanuts with the guidance of a physician.
  • For infants exhibiting mild to moderate eczema, peanut-containing foods can be added to their diets at six months of age.
  • Infants who don't have eczema and haven't been diagnosed with any other food allergy are unlikely to develop a peanut allergy. As a precaution, however, introducing peanuts at an early age is suggested.

The NIH guidelines further recommend that infants—especially those at the greatest allergy risk—eat roughly two teaspoons of peanut butter three times per week. Experts additionally advise that parents adopt a similar strategy with other foods most frequently associated with food allergies.

Fortunately, most children outgrow their allergies to cow’s milk, eggs, soy, and wheat. Shellfish allergies, conversely, often are a lifelong issue. It’s recommended that both children and adults periodically repeat allergy testing to determine if any of their food allergies have been alleviated.

Sources:

http://www.aaaai.org/conditions-and-treatments/library/at-a-glance/food-allergy.aspx

https://www.foodallergy.org/facts-and-stats

http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/food-allergy/basics/symptoms/con-20019293

https://www.nih.gov/news-events/news-releases/nih-sponsored-expert-panel-issues-clinical-guidelines-prevent-peanut-allergy