Food allergies are becoming more and more common across America. Whether that’s because children are being exposed earlier to allergens, or because the gene pool is getting weaker and weaker with each passing generation, the reasons aren’t clear. What is clear is that each year millions of Americans have allergic reactions to food.
Most food allergy reactions are mild. Symptoms are easily managed at home and families may not even report them to their doctor, especially if they don’t recognize that their symptoms are a result of a food allergy. But, some food allergies cause severe reactions that can be life-threatening and definitely require a doctor’s care and hospitalization.
People who suffer from food allergies shouldn’t be fooled by an initial mild reaction to a food allergen. This early reaction can be followed quickly by a more severe food allergic reaction such as anaphylaxis. Anaphylaxis can be life-threatening. People who are experiencing anaphylaxis will experience constricted lungs, severe lowering of the blood pressure and suffocation by swelling in the throat. These symptoms are all symptoms of a severe histamine reaction following exposure to a food allergen. Each year there are 150 people who die from allergic reactions and 30,000 emergency room visits.
Food allergies are unlike environmental allergies to things like pollen. While you may be able to develop de-sensitivity to environmental allergies, food allergies can’t be cured. The person must strictly avoid the food allergen and recognize and manage any reactions as quickly as possible to prevent serious consequences.
To help Americans avoid the risks posed by food allergies Congress passed the Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act of 2004. The law applies to all foods that the FDA regulates and that have been labeled on or after January 1, 2006. This law mandates that the labels must clearly identify not only the ingredients by the common names but also the source of those ingredients. As a result this will help consumers to identify foods to which they have allergies so they can be more easily avoided.
There are 8 major food groups that cause allergic reactions in people. These include milk, eggs, fish, crustacean shellfish (like lobster or shrimp), tree nuts (almonds, walnuts, pecans), peanuts, wheat and soybeans. The food allergen that gets the most press are nut allergies and allergies to crustacean fish since these are the two that most frequently cause anaphylactic shock reactions leading to life-threatening situations.
The law specified that the labels must contain the source of the common ingredient as well as the name – for instance – “flour (wheat)” or “lecithin (soy)”. Or the labeling must include a list of sources near the list of ingredients such as: Contains milk, peanuts, soy.
If you, or someone you are with, experiences symptoms of food allergies they should seek medical attention immediately. Most common food allergy symptoms include a scratchy, itchy throat, hives, coughing or wheezing, stomach, vomiting, swelling in the throat, difficulty breathing, skin rash, and face, tongue or lip swelling.
Once you have exhibited a food allergy you must be very careful about reading food labels. Unfortunately there is evidence to suggest that while the first or second exposure to a food allergy may result in a mild reaction subsequent exposures can escalate the severity of the reaction.
Food Allergy Research and Education
MedlinePlus: Food Allergy
American Academy of Allergy Asthma and Immunology: Food Allergy: Tips to Remember
MayoClinic: Food Allergy
KidsHealth: Food Allergies
American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology: Food Allergies
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Food Allergies in Schools