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What we need to know about Life-threatening Food Allergies

Basic Symptoms of anaphylaxis
Basic Symptoms of anaphylaxis

Food allergies can occur at any age, any race or ethnicity, and regardless of family history.
Some food allergies have the potential to be out-grown. However, life-threatening allergies, like peanuts and tree nuts are usually lifelong. This means, the individual’s life must be altered and adjusted in ways to keep them safe and alive.

According to FARE (Food Allergy Research & Education), there are 15 MILLION individuals living with food allergies. This potentially fatal disease affects 1 in every 13 children in the U.S. That’s roughly two in every classroom. Every 3 minutes, a food allergy reaction sends someone to the emergency room. That is more than 200,000 emergency room visits per year!

Education and avoidance of allergens are the keys to prevent fatal and near fatal reactions. Avoidance is not as easy as one would assume. Many food items are not properly labeled. Sometimes, all it takes is a trace amount of a food allergen to cause a fatal reaction, especially in a child.

Avoidance, is not just for the individual to avoid eating anything that may contain the allergen, but not to touch the allergen, or be near the allergen. Touch, inhalation, and simple exposure to an allergen has the potential to cause a life-threatening reaction. It is not as simple as just not eating peanut butter or actual nuts. The top allergens are in many processed and prepackaged foods. Typically, food you would not normally consider, like certain pretzels, breads, chips, candy, ice cream etc. may contain nuts.

The number of fatal and near fatal reactions, typically occur as a result of improper labeling, eating food from someone’s home with unknown trace amounts of allergens, and also lack of proper education on the immediate treatment required during a reaction.

A life-threatening allergic reaction, referred to as anaphylaxis can occur within a couple of minutes. Symptoms, are often confused with an upset stomach or asthma and proper treatment is delayed. Anaphylaxis symptoms vary, but include hives, itching, flushing, and swelling of lips, tongue, and/or roof of mouth. The airway is often affected, resulting in tightness of chest, throat, and difficulty breathing.

Other symptoms that are often over looked and not always seen as a potential anaphylaxis reaction, are chest pain, low blood pressure, dizziness, stomach aches, and headaches.

Treatment for an anaphylaxis reaction is most commonly Epinephrine (adrenaline), which can be injected. Epinephrine is a highly effective medication that can reverse severe symptoms. However, it must be administered promptly during anaphylaxis to be most effective. Failure to promptly (within minutes) treat food anaphylaxis with epinephrine is a risk of death. This is why Epinephrine should always be within easy reach of the individual. As well as proper identification of the medication and the individual, such as a medical alert bracelet.

Immediate hospital treatment should follow anytime Epinephrine is administered. FARE recommends 2 auto-injectors are carried at all times, as some patients needs a second shot before they arrive at the hospital.

A young child might describe an allergic reaction as:

• "This food is too spicy."
• "My tongue is burning."
• "My tongue hurts of feels weird."
• "My tongue [or mouth] is tingling [or burning]."
• "My tongue [or mouth] itches."
• "It [my tongue] feels like there is hair on it."
• "My mouth feels funny."
• "There’s something stuck in my throat."
• "My tongue feels full [or heavy]."
• "My lips feel tight."
• "It feels like there are bugs in there." (to describe itchy ears)
• "It [my throat] feels thick."
• "It feels like a bump is on the back of my tongue [throat]."

If you suspect you or a loved one might have a food allergy, get the proper testing right away and follow an Allergist's procedures to decrease your risks. For more information, follow up with your medical provider and links below.

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