What You Didn’t Know About Food Allergies

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The prevalence of severe food allergies ranges from 10 percent in 2-year-olds and 7.1 percent in children 14-17 to 10.8 percent in adults 18 years and older. While milk, egg, wheat, and soy allergies often go away in infants and toddlers, others in the Big 9 are almost always lifelong. And people who didn’t have allergies when they were younger don’t necessarily stay that way. New food allergies can develop at any age.

D., an allergist at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, New York. According to Scott H. Sicherer and co-authors, “Remarkably, about half of adults with food allergies in the United States report developing at least one of the food allergies during adulthood. Shellfish allergy is responsible for the largest number of such cases.”

Dr. Sicherer explained that the only true food allergies are adverse immunological responses. The body reacts to an otherwise innocent food as if it were a life-threatening infection and launches a full-scale attack. Symptoms may include hives, difficulty breathing, vomiting, or anaphylaxis—a serious, potentially fatal shock reaction that occurs within seconds or minutes of exposure to an allergen, sometimes only in small amounts. That’s why most airlines no longer offer peanuts on their flyers—just a sprinkle of peanut powder can be deadly for some people with peanut allergies.

More than 40 percent of children with food allergies and more than half of adults with food allergies experience at least one severe reaction in their lifetime. Among those allergic to one or more of the Big 9 allergens, severe reaction rates exceed 27 percent, and peanut allergy tops the list, with 59.2 percent among children and 67.8 percent among adults allergic to peanuts.

Still, many people who think they have a food allergy wonder whether a child has a reaction to foods under medical supervision, The gold standard for diagnosing food allergies. Others incorrectly consider any adverse reaction to food, from stomach upset to headache, to be an allergy. For example, food intolerance to lactose, the natural sugar in milk, is caused by a deficiency of the enzyme lactase, not an immune reaction. Many Asians develop redness and flushing when they consume alcohol because they do not have an enzyme to digest it. Other people may think they are allergic because they experience drug-like reactions, such as extreme irritability from the caffeine in coffee and tea.

Sometimes, avoiding a food for a long time can cause an allergic reaction when that food is eventually consumed. This can happen in children with skin allergies who avoid milk; When they finally consume it, they may experience an allergic reaction later on.. Occupational exposures, use of skin care products, even tick bites can sometimes cause adult-onset food allergies if both have cross-reactivity to an allergenic substance.

And while in past years allergy-prone families were advised to avoid exposing their children to peanuts until age 3 (which is likely to have contributed to the current explosion of peanut allergies in children), it now appears early entry – at 6 months. Dr. A highly allergenic food is actually protective and reduces the risk of reactions later in life, Sicherer said..

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