Food Allergies Are on the Rise
By Mariah Pieretti, MD
has been a real increase in food allergy in recent years. In fact, a
recent study found that the prevalence of peanut allergy has tripled from
1997-2008. 6-8 percent of children now have food allergies.
common is peanut allergy?
prevalence of peanut allergy is 0.6-1.3%. Fortunately about 20 percent of
young children with a peanut allergy outgrow it.
are allergies more prevalent than they used to be?
are currently a couple of hypotheses about the rise in allergies in general.
One theory speculates that because our society has become so hygienic, our
natural immune systems simply don’t develop the way they used to, which puts us
at greater risk for allergies. Another hypothesis is that waiting to
introduce highly allergic foods such as peanuts into a child’s diet may
increase the child’s risk of developing allergies to those foods.
people with peanut allergies also allergic to tree nuts or beans?
you are allergic to peanuts there is a 25-50 percent chance that you will also
have a tree nut allergy. Peanuts are actually beans, which means that a few
people with peanut allergies are also allergic to other beans such as green
beans or peas. Because peanuts and tree nuts are often processed
together, cross contamination is an additional problem. For this reason it is
often safer for people with peanut allergies to restrict their consumption of
both peanuts and tree nuts.
a peanut allergy be successfully treated?
only treatment available right now is to avoid peanuts and to be prepared in
the event of an accidental exposure. There are treatments on the horizon but
they are not available yet. In a clinical trial at Duke (Durham, NC),
researchers are working on peanut oral immunotherapy to desensitize people with
peanut allergies. In another clinical trial at Mount Sinai (New York, NY),
researchers are developing a vaccine for peanut allergy. Diagnostic progress is
also being made, which will enable physicians to predict which specific peanut
allergies people have. This is significant because some peanut allergies are
more severe than others.
are the typical symptoms of food allergies?
within minutes to hours of eating the food in question, an allergic person will
develop one or some of the following symptoms: hives, nausea, vomiting,
shortness of breath, sneezing or throat symptoms. In infants, the allergic
reaction may show up as eczema. Consistency is key: if every single time your
child consumes a particular food he or she has a problem, then the child is
there a difference between allergy and intolerance?
there is a big difference between allergy and intolerance. An allergy is an
abnormal immune response and can be life threatening if someone suffers
anaphylaxis. By comparison a food intolerance, such as lactose intolerance, may
make you uncomfortable but it is never life threatening. This is an important
distinction to make.
happens during anaphylaxis?
is a life threatening reaction that occurs rapidly and can happen anytime there
is accidental exposure to the allergen. Symptoms include shortness of breath,
tightness in the chest or throat, coughing, fainting, and/or a drop in blood
pressure. It is important to treat anaphylaxis immediately with epinephrine
(EpiPen) and to call 911 for further treatment. You should get to the
nearest emergency department as quickly as possible because an allergic
reaction may progress even after a dose of epinephrine.
I take my child to an allergy specialist?
is great value in seeing an allergist if your child is experiencing symptoms.
You will have lots of questions that can be answered during your appointment.
Educating both you and your child about safety and appropriate emergency
response is an important first step.
your child has a serious allergy to peanuts or other foods there are steps you
can take to reduce risks. Keep an EpiPen handy at all times for an emergency
dose of epinephrine. Practice strict avoidance of the allergen. Talk to
school nurses and babysitters. Emphasize to your child the importance of not
sharing food with friends and encourage them to seek help rather than go off on
their own if they begin to have allergic symptoms.
Pieretti is board certified in Allergy and Immunology, as well as Pediatrics.
She is on the medical staff of Cayuga Medical Center and is in practice with
Asthma and Allergy Associates where she can be reached at (607) 257-6563.