DYK May is National Food Allergy Awareness Month? Yep – and this week is #FoodAllergyAwarenessWeek! In honor of those who manage food allergies every day and those who serve them as healthcare providers, I thought it would be fun to do a post about my favorite Food Allergy experts on social media and share 10 food allergy facts. Let’s start with the facts…always a good place to start, right?
Food Allergy Facts
- Food allergies are an immune reaction that happens every time you eat a certain food. If you can eat that food sometimes without a reaction, you very likely do NOT have a food allergy.
- Diagnosing food allergies is a science – and a bit of an art. History is an important part, but isn’t enough alone. Lab tests such as skin prick and blood tests (serum IgE) are also a part, but aren’t diagnostic all by themselves either. It takes both history and positive lab tests. The GOLD standard is an oral food challenge – actually eating the food in the doctor’s office in order to observe (and treat, if needed) symptoms.
- Food allergies are often diagnosed in early childhood, but can manifest at any time in the lifecycle. Milk, egg and peanut allergies are usually diagnosed as children, while fish and shellfish allergies are most often diagnosed in adulthood.
- While it is difficult to estimate true prevalence of food allergies, it is estimated that about 4-5% of adults and 6-8% of children has a true food allergy. Intolerances, sensitivities, and other adverse reactions to foods usually aren’t considered food allergies and self-diagnosis is a poor indicator of true allergy.
- “The Big 8” are the 8 most common food allergens and account for about 90% of reactions in the U.S. These include milk, egg, peanut, tree nut, fish, shellfish, wheat and soy. Even so, more than 160 different foods have been known to cause food allergy reactions.
- Many children outgrow their food allergies. This includes about 80% of children allergic to milk, 60% of those allergic to egg, and as many as 20% of those allergic to peanut. In recent years, it seems that it is taking longer for children to outgrow their allergies, but many will outgrow their allergy before they enter school.
- Food allergy reactions are often mild and self-limiting, but can be very unpredictable and may be life-threatening. Every reaction should be treated seriously and receive immediate attention. Anaphylaxis can happen very quickly and lead to death in a matter of minutes in the most severe cases. Epinephrine is the only approved treatment for anaphylaxis and should be administered as soon as anaphylaxis is suspected.
- Smelling most allergenic foods, such as peanut butter, hasn’t been shown to evoke reactions in those with allergies. Volatile compounds that cause odor are not the same proteins that cause food allergy reactions. The exception is when fish is being cooked. The proteins can become airborne in the steam over a boiling or steaming pot and could cause a reaction. Ingestion may cause anaphylaxis, but just being near an allergen will not.
- Having a food allergy makes an individual, especially a child, at higher risk for nutritional deficiency and stunted growth. Working with a registered dietitian who is skilled in food allergy management can lead to better outcomes and better nutritional status.
- Individuals with food allergies often have a lower quality of life (QOL), perhaps even lower than those managing other chronic diseases like diabetes. Self-advocacy and self-efficacy are important parts of increasing QOL. In addition, participating in an oral food challenge (even if an individual does not pass/has a reaction) increases QOL for food allergic individuals.
Being aware of the facts about food allergies makes you more supportive and helpful of those in your circle who may need you. There’s great news and research happening in the areas of prevention (eating allergens early, especially peanut foods, can prevent allergy in many cases!), treatment (70% or more of those participating in immunotherapy become tolerant!), and better understanding why food allergies develop (microbiome anyone?). While having food allergies can be tough, this is really a great time of hope for a cure and time to help others along their food allergy journey.
For more on food allergies, follow some of my favorite folks on Twitter! Here’s my short list (in no particular order):
- Dr. Dave Stukus @AllergyKidsDoc – myth buster and fact sharer extraordinaire
Pediatric allergy & asthma specialist nationwidekids, Official spokesperson ACAAI, Board Member AAFANational
- Carina Venter, PhD, RD @VenterCarina – an amazing registered dietitian and researcher with a heart of gold
Allergy Specialist Dietitian at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital
- Dr. George du Toit @GoAllergy – lead author on the ground-breaking Learning Early About Peanut study
Paediatric Allergist GSTTnhs ThePortlandHosp Reader & Researcher KingsCollegeLon. Chair EAACI_HQPaediatric Section
- Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Connection Team @faactnews – advocacy and education organization
FAACT’s Mission: to educate, advocate, & raise awareness for all families & individuals affected by
#foodallergies & life-threatening #anaphylaxis.
- Kids with Food Allergies @KFATweets – purveyor of evidence-based and timely info on food allergies
Kids With Food Allergies is a division of the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America.
While there are a lot of folks on the inter webs talking about food allergies – including some other goodies, the folks on this list are the tops in my book for sharing facts, breaking news and research, and the science of food allergies. Plus, they’re very responsive if you have questions! Of course, I hope you’ll also follow me @DietitianSherry for my take on nutrition, food allergies, and healthy deliciousness every day.