The fuss over food allergies
Chances are, you or your child know at least one
or two kids with a peanut, milk or wheat allergy.
It's also likely you can't recall kids from your own
childhood with the same allergies. Why the sudden
surge in food allergies?
According to the Centers for Disease Control and
Prevention, four out of every 100 children have food
allergies - that's about three million kids nationwide.
Recent studies show the number of kids and teens
diagnosed with food allergies has increased by 18
percent over the last 10 years.
"The cause of food allergies is not fully understood,"
says Virtua allergist and immunologist
Gregory Toci, DO. "Some feel the increase is caused
by environmental factors, or greater consumption
of processed foods or perhaps an overuse of antibacterial
products. The cause is likely a combination
of several factors."
Most common offenders
The eight foods that cause 90 percent of all food
allergies are: milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, fish,
shellfish, soy and wheat. Luckily, the majority
of children will outgrow food allergies before
kindergarten. But allergies to peanuts, tree nuts
and shellfish may last a lifetime.
"Many of my pediatric patients have peanut
allergies," says Dr. Toci. "And because they're
inexpensive, peanut products are often used in
foods that you don't associate with peanuts." He
advises his patients: "If you don't know, don't eat it."
The physical reactions
Allergic symptoms typically
appear within minutes to two
hours. Although the majority of
allergic reactions are not serious,
some can be life threatening.
Anaphylaxis is a sudden, potentially
severe reaction involving multiple systems of the
body. Symptoms of anaphylaxis can include difficulty
breathing, tightness in the throat, stuffy nose or
coughing, nausea, increased heart rate, or skin
itching, tingling or swelling. These symptoms can
escalate rapidly and should be treated immediately.
The social reactions
"The social issues created by food allergies can be
harder for kids to deal with than the actual allergy,"
says Dr. Toci. Children can feel isolated if they're
required to sit at a peanut-free table in the cafeteria.
Teens with food allergies can't eat the same foods
as their friends and are embarrassed to ask about
The good news is that it's getting easier for
families to manage food allergies. Newer food
labels identify key ingredients previously hidden
under multiple names, schools have adopted
no-nut policies, and restaurants post warnings
that products may contain peanuts.
If you suspect that your child has a food allergy,
talk to your pediatrician or call 1-888-Virtua-3
to schedule an appointment with an allergist