Children with Food Allergies: Twice as Many as We Thought
Posted by Shifrah on Friday, June 24, 2011
Before I began writing for, I had little involvement with allergies. I don't typically suffer from allergies myself (although I do have allergies when pregnant) and no one in my family has any food allergies.

I wasn't writing about allergies for long before I began to realize how acutely quality of life is affected for those with allergies. What hit me hardest was that people with certain allergies, like food allergies, can actually die from the condition.

This realization, coming as it did in my late 20's and only because I was in a sense forced to engage with the information, is I think typical of many Americans' lack of knowledge about allergies in general and food allergies specifically.

Of course I knew that food allergies like peanut allergies or milk allergies could be life-threatening, but the possibility seemed remote. However, with the number of food allergic children on the rise, the prevalence of such reactions is much less remote than it was – although awareness may not be keeping up with the increased danger.

Experts have known that the number of those with food allergies is on the rise, but a study just published online in Pediatrics and reported by USA Today, among other news outlets, says that food allergies affect about 1 in 13 children, double the latest government estimates.

This means that 6 million American children suffer from food allergies, with the majority of allergies being to milk and peanuts. This translates to about two children per classroom who have food allergies. Forty percent of these children have severe reactions.

As Dr. Calman Prussin, an investigator with the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, puts it, the study "confirms that food allergy is a substantial public health problem." Indeed.

One strength of this study is that it specifically differentiated between food intolerances and actual food allergies. Symptoms of a true food allergy include skin rashes, wheezing, tightness in the throat or difficulty breathing. Parents interviewed in this latest survey were asked if their children had these particular symptoms.

Interestingly, the study was funded by the Food Allergy Initiative, a nonprofit advocacy group founded by parents of children with allergies. Hopefully, as awareness increases, sad situations like this protest against the accommodations made for a severely allergic girl will diminish.

In addition, we can only hope that as the problem of food allergies grows, the effects can be stymied not only by increased public awareness, but also by increased education about ways to manage and treat food allergies. Seeing an allergist is fundamental to managing allergies, and even to possibly treating them permanently through allergy shots. Yet many allergic individuals seem to not even consider seeing such a specialist.

Our monthly allergist interview series attempts to raise awareness about the type of help allergists can offer. This is just one way we at attempt to contribute to the efforts of raising awareness about allergic conditions of all kinds.

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