Can you imagine being allergic to food? Well, some people don’t have to imagine. Food allergies affect approximately 15 million Americans, with approximately 6 million of those being children. According to the CDC, food allergies in children send nearly 300,000 kids to the emergency rooms every year.
Anaphylaxis, a condition caused by the allergy, can kill if not treated immediately. Early administration of epinephrine (adrenaline) is crucial in saving lives from anaphylactic reactions. Epinephrine is available by prescription in a self-injectable device (EpiPen or Twinject). Some persons are so allergic to certain foodstuffs (as well as non-food stuffs) that they must carry one of these devices with them at all times.
The most common food allergies, coincidently, are to some of the most common foods. Milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, soy, wheat, fish and shellfish are the eight most common foods people are allergic to, with cows’ milk being the food that children are most commonly allergic to, with about 2.5% of children being allergic.
Often children will grow out of a food allergy, except for peanut allergies. Peanut allergies tend to stay around throughout adulthood. Children, however, will usually outgrow allergies to milk by the age of six. Persons with allergies to peanuts often have a higher risk of allergies to tree nuts, peanuts aren’t actually a nut though, but rather they are a legume (bean).
Often when children are allergic to cows’ milk or animal milk in general, parents may try to substitute soy milk for it. Unfortunately some children are also allergic to soy. It is a small percentage, affecting less than one half of one percent of children. Also it is advised not to do this as babies and children with milk allergies are at high risk of having or developing soy allergies. Parents must be careful if their child has a soy allergy as soy is used in many non-food items. Some filler used in stuffed animals are derived from soy fibers. Also beanbags are often filled with soy beans and Vitamin E is often derived from soy.
Eggs are the second most common food that children are allergic to, this allergy affects approximately 1.5% of American children, but like milk, about 80% of children will outgrow this allergy by age six. This often makes it difficult or even dangerous for children to be immunized because immunizations are often created in hen eggs.
The food adults are most commonly allergic to is shellfish, with approximately 2% of American adults suffering from this food allergy. Unlike other foods, fish and shellfish are allergies that tend to develop later in life (only 0.1% of children have shellfish allergies) and they tend to be very severe, lifelong allergies. If a shellfish allergen sufferer is affected by the allergy there is a great risk of death from anaphylaxis if epinephrine is not given immediately.
Often these food allergens will hide in unsuspected places, children with wheat allergies for example, cannot play with Play-Doh, and some glues, lotions and shampoo may contain wheat. Food allergies can be very complex and dangerous as some items derived from food stuffs are used in everyday items. If you or your child has food allergies it is very important to know what items may contain these substances. As with any medical condition, consult your physician for treatment and evaluation and most likely they will have information on what other items to avoid.
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