Earlier this month a 13-year-old California girl with an allergy to peanuts died in her father’s arms after unknowingly consuming a small amount of peanut butter in a snack she was eating.
The girl quickly spit out the small bit of peanut butter, but efforts to save her life, including multiple injections that should have brought her allergic reaction to a halt, were futile.
The teen’s death brings home the dangers faced by those with severe food allergies
The World Health Organization says food allergies appear to be on the rise in all industrialized nations and considers it an important health issue. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention conducted a study in 2008 that showed an 18 percent increase in the amount of children in the US with food allergies.
The current rise in food allergies has been particularly noticeable among young people 18 and under.
The number of people who die from food allergies is low, but when a person with a severe food allergy consumes even a microscopic bit of that food, it can result in anaphylaxis, an allergic reaction that can in some cases lead to death.
Dr. Melinda Braskett, medical director of the UCLA Food & Drug Allergy Care Center in California, refers to food allergies as misguided immune reactions to foods that can cause reproducible rapid reactions like rashes, swelling and breathing problems.
Along with peanuts, Braskett said milk, soy, eggs and wheat are the most common items to produce food allergies.
Many of those with dangerous allergies to certain foods notice the symptoms of the allergic reaction come on quickly and may start with relatively mild symptoms, but can quickly escalate into something more serious or even life threatening.
While the number of people with food allergies is growing, so far there are no clear answers as to why.
Braskett suspects the rise in food allergies may be linked to more people developing a wide range of allergies and that we’re becoming more allergic as a society.
Since people are generally cleaner than in times past, something she refers to as the “hygiene hypothesis” may play a role in triggering immune responses to a variety of items that may not have been a problem before.
Braskett noted that some people without food allergies might still have something called food intolerance which she said is broad and hard to define.
Someone with food intolerance may get a migraine headache, experience an outbreak of acne or bloating without any other symptoms after eating something like chocolate or foods with artificial coloring added. Getting indigestion after a spicy meal is also considered food intolerance.
If you suspect you have a food allergy, Dr. Braskett recommends seeing your doctor first.
Your doctor can help you determine if you actually have a food allergy and identify what you’re allergic to. That way, a plan to manage your allergies can be developed.
Baskett advised keeping some antihistamines, like Benadryl, on hand in the event you accidentally eat something that causes an allergic reaction. Your doctor can determine what specific medications and dosages work best for you.
Sometimes though an allergic reaction can begin and advance so quickly that there may not be enough time for the antihistamines to work properly. In that case, immediate emergency action will be needed.
Many people, who are subject to severe and potentially-deadly allergic reactions, carry an epinephrine autoinjector or pen. This is a medical device that quickly provides the proper measured dose of epinephrine or adrenaline, which is a medication that avoids or treats anaphylactic shock.
If you do have a food allergy, the standard treatment is to avoid the foods you’re allergic to. Braskett said to keep a close eye on the ingredients of the foods you eat to ensure they don’t contain any potentially harmful elements.
Braskett also recommends talking with family and friends about your allergies and getting their help and support.