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Dangerous Food Allergies Found To Be More Prevalent Than Previously Believed

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Food allergies are nothing to be taken lightly. While many are mild and result in only minor reactions such as itching (hives), watery eyes, sneezing, or other negligible transitory symptoms, some are far more serious and can have deadly consequences.

These dangerous food allergies are made all the more problematic by the fact that they are often triggered by insignificant amounts of the allergen that: (1) may not be listed as an ingredient in a food product through inadvertence or as a result of a labeling error; (2) may be included by mistake; (3) may be an unknown component of an ingredient; or (4) may be present in a form that is not commonly associated with the allergen, such as in an extract or a related chemical compound.

Thus, the findings of a new study conducted at Harvard Medical School are significant in that life-threatening allergic reactions to peanuts, seafood, and other foods appear to be more widespread than previously believed.

In fact, they account for over 1 million emergency room visits each year and many of those reactions are in the form of anaphylaxis, a severe allergic reaction that also occurs in other situations such as stings and bites from venomous insects, animals, and fish.

The study, led by Dr. Carlos Camargo, was presented at the annual meeting of the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology.

Camargo sees one of the problems as being that many emergency room doctors fail to recognize anaphylaxis, which leads to it either not being treated properly or at all. This is significant in that the 1 million ER visits represents about 1% of all such trips to the hospital.

Although epinephrine is a standard medication used to treat allergic reactions, only about 50% of all patients experiencing anaphylaxis were treated with the drug upon their arrival at the emergency room despite the fact that about 25% of patients presented with symptoms severe enough to warrant admission to the hospital.

The finding that two-thirds of those who went to an emergency room as a result of a severe food allergy were women (average age of 35) was surprising in that food allergies are commonly associated with children.

The researchers also discovered that ER doctors documented that only 1% of individuals with severe food allergies were suffering from anaphylaxis. Camargo said that in his estimation, 30% to 50% of severe food allergy reactions are anaphylaxis.

Camargo believes a better working definition of anaphylaxis is required since many people mistakenly believe the condition requires that the victim go into shock. While falling blood pressure or shock may be symptoms of anaphylaxis, Dr Camargo stresses that any “multisystem allergic reaction with symptoms such as shortness of breath, rash, or vomiting” is anaphylaxis as well.

People with severe food allergies can help themselves quite a bit by always carrying either a Twinject or EpiPen autoinjector. These devices contain epinephrine and can be used in case of an emergency and should be used even before calling 911 for help.

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