Next week, May 9-15, 2010, the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) will commemorate National Food Allergy Awareness Week. This is an important week, started in 1997, that serves to raise awareness of this growing problem on both the local and national level. This year’s theme is Respect Every Bite, just to remind us that even trace amounts of some foods can cause reactions in individuals who are allergic.
Individuals with an allergy to a particular food may experience a wide range of reactions from ingesting very small amounts. Allergic reactions may range from mild to very severe, and anywhere in between. The most severe reactions, called anaphylaxis, can be extremely frightening to the victim and even life-threatening. Each year in the United States, there are an estimated 15,000 to 30,000 food-induced anaphylactic reactions. Estimates by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) indicate that nearly 4 percent of adults and teens, as well as 5 percent of children under the age of 6, suffer from a food allergy. In addition to these numbers, CDC indicates that the number of people diagnosed with food allergies has increased by 18 percent over the last 10 years.
Interestingly, the foods that cause allergies are not obscure or rare. In the United States, the eight foods most commonly implicated in allergic reactions are eggs, milk, peanuts, tree nuts, soy, wheat, Crustacean shellfish and fish. As of now, food allergies cannot be prevented, and once they develop, there is no way to cure them. The only protection is to simply avoid that particular food, and even then, accidental exposures do occur. Unfortunately, the constant vigilance required adds a great deal of stress to the allergic individual as well as the rest of the family. Clearly, there is a real need to develop strategies that prevent the development of food allergies as well as improved ways to diagnose and manage them.
NIAID supports many clinical trials including how to change the body’s immune response as well as basic and preclinical research in allergy and immunology. NIAID has worked with more than 30 organizations, agencies and advocacy groups to develop the draft Guidelines for the Diagnosis and Management of Food Allergy. After public comment, the final guidelines are expected to be available later in 2010. Follow this link for more information on NIAID’s role in food allergy research.