Did you know that a food allergy reaction sends someone to the emergency room every 3 minutes? Food allergies affect as many as 15 million Americans – 5.9 million of them are children. It’s shocking that one out of every 13 children – or about two in each classroom – has food allergies.
Eight foods cause the majority of all food allergy reactions in the United States: shellfish, fish, milk, eggs, tree nuts, peanuts, soy, and wheat. A food allergy reaction can result in anaphylaxis – a severe, whole-body reaction. Symptoms develop quickly, often within seconds or minutes. Symptoms may include: hives, vomiting, trouble breathing, swelling of the throat, a sudden drop in blood pressure, shock, and – in some cases – even death.
“Too often, people do not understand how dangerous an allergic reaction can be,” says Susan Krahn, a public health nutritionist with the Eau Claire City-County Health Department and the mother of a child with a food allergy. “When it comes to children with food allergies, it truly ‘takes a village’ to keep them safe.”
For parents of a child with food allergies, every day brings new situations in which food is involved and an allergen may be present. Think of the places you bring snacks for your child – the library, the park, the store. For a child with a food allergy, eating even the slightest trace of a food allergen could trigger a reaction.
We don’t know all the causes of food allergies. Research suggests they develop from a mix of genetic and environmental influences. While promising therapies are being studied in clinical trials, there is currently no cure for food allergies. New research has found that early introduction of peanut (around 6 months of age), followed by regularly eating foods containing peanuts may help protect children at high risk for peanut allergy. If you delay the introduction of peanuts it may actually increase the risk. Experts are still learning what this means for other food allergens.
Food Allergy Research & Education (FARE), the nation’s leading nonprofit dedicated to food allergies, encourages Americans to recognize food allergy as a serious public health issue during Food Allergy Awareness Week (May 13-19). The goal of Food Allergy Awareness Week is to shine a spotlight on the seriousness of food allergies. Spread the word with free resources at foodallergyweek.org.
Susan Krahn, MS, RDN, CD, CLC, is a public health nutritionist and registered dietitian with the Eau City-County Health Department/WIC Program.