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The fuss over food allergies

Bookmark and Share 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 ingredients.

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 and immunologist.