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10 Things to Know About Food Allergy Reactions

Once an allergic reaction starts, there is no way to tell for certain how it will progress. A mild reaction can progress to a life-threatening one within minutes. Here’s a list of 10 things everyone should understand in case you come in contact with someone that has a food allergy.

1. They’re real, and they happen a lot.

We used to call food allergies “rare,” but the numbers are telling us they’re a very real problem. Since the 1990s, the prevalence of food allergies has grown dramatically. According to Food Allergy Research and Education, fifteen million Americans report having some allergic reaction to food, including 8% of all children.

2. How frequently do severe reactions occur?

More often than we used to think. About 40% of children with food allergies have had what medical professionals would call a “severe” reaction. They typically happen very quickly and don’t involve the typical symptoms of hives or mouth tingling — they can even be life-threatening.

3. What are the common symptoms?

An allergic reaction normally occurs within minutes of eating the trigger food. Symptoms include hives, red, itchy skin, and itchy nose and eyes, as well as vomiting, stomach cramps or diarrhea. The most severe reaction, anaphylaxis, is life threatening.

4. When shouldn’t epinephrine be given?

Doctors should exercise prudential judgment based on the patient’s individual symptoms. It’s possible that a “wait and see” approach might be sufficient. However since symptoms can turn serious quickly, use your best judgment and, in case of doubt, go ahead – use the epinephrine or call 911.

5. Sometimes antihistamines aren’t enough

Sure, they can stop an itch or clear up a few hives, but antihistamines can’t do anything to stop anaphylaxis (viz., the body’s reaction to the allergen itself). The only way to really treat an allergy is to see an allergist and/or immunologist.

6. What should I tell my ER doctor?

As much as possible. As a general rule of the thumb, the more the doctor knows, the better care he or she will be able to give you. That includes all food allergies and related ailments.

7. Afraid of needles?

You’re gonna have to get over it. Think of your auto-injector as your friend and lifesaver, not a thing to be feared. In administered correctly, you’ll feel a lot better after the shot!

8. What foods are kids most allergic to?

Peanuts, shellfish, tree nuts, milk, eggs and wheat are the most common, with peanut allergies present in 25% of allergic children in one highly-cited pediatric study.

9. The peanut is the most common food allergy

Millions of American can’t have those complimentary peanuts on the ballfield. Peanuts and tree nuts are also the most common triggers in food allergy fatalities, so recent public precautions against allergen contamination are warranted.

10. It’s a balancing act.

We realize you may know a parent whose child had a “mild peanut allergy” and could eat “X” or do “X” without a problem. They may have been lucky! Always speak to an allergist about your or your child’s symptoms and allergies to determine how to best keep safe, while living life without fear.