The Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America has deemed May National Asthma and Allergy Awareness Month. In addition, the third week in May is designated Food Allergy Awareness Week. Allergies have become really important and can mean life or death to the nearly 15 million people in the US who are affected by food allergies. The Centers for Disease Control estimate four to six percent of children and four percent of adults are affected by food allergies.
A food allergy occurs when the body’s immune system perceives a certain food as dangerous or harmful. The body reacts by causing symptoms. Those symptoms are an allergic reaction and can range from mild to severe. The foods that cause the allergic reactions are called allergens. There are eight major food allergens: Milk, Eggs, Peanuts, Tree Nuts, Wheat, Soy, Fish, and Crustacean Shellfish. There is currently no cure for food allergies so avoiding the food with the allergen is the most effective way to not suffer a reaction. Food allergies are most common in young children but can appear at any age. Some of the allergies are occasionally outgrown but not always. The most common ones that are occasionally outgrown are milk, egg, wheat and soy. Children with food allergies are two to four times more likely to have asthma or other allergic diseases.
Most food related symptoms occur within two hours of ingesting the food. Sometimes the reaction can happen within minutes. An initial reaction may produce mild symptoms but that does not guarantee all reactions will be similar. The most severe allergic reaction is anaphylaxis. It is life-threatening and can effect breathing, blood pressure and heart rate. Because it can be fatal it must be treated promptly with an injection of epinephrine. You may know people who carry an EpiPen with them because their reactions can be so severe.
If you suspect you or someone you know has a food allergy it is important to have testing done by a board-certified allergist.