According to the CDC, a food allergy sends someone to the emergency room every three minutes.
In fact, food allergies have increased ten-fold in the last decade. As many as 15 million Americans have food allergies -- some so severe, they can be deadly. Especially for children.
Do you know what to do if someone in your family has a life-threatening allergic reaction?
"A food allergy is an inappropriate reaction in the body when you eat a food. And the reaction is coming from your immune system," explains Dr. Cara Natterson, a pediatrician. "The main four allergens that you hear about, particularly with the younger kids, are milk, soy, wheat and egg. The later four allergens that you hear associated more with adulthood are peanut, tree nut, shellfish and generic fish. But, anything is a potential allergen."
How do you know if someone is having an allergic reaction to food?
"Food allergies can affect any part of your body, so the most common places are the lungs, the intestinal tract, the skin, and then you can have a full-body response, and that's called anaphylaxis," Dr. Natterson continues. "A child who's got an anaphylactic reaction to a food is a child who could potentially die from that food. It's extremely serious and it's much less rare then it used to be. Just in the past couple of decades, the number of kids with anaphylaxis has really increased tremendously."
An anaphylactic reaction to food can be frightening. Here's what to watch for:
"We might see a hive-like rash all over the body," says Dr. Natterson. "A child is covered in hives. Or, we might see swelling. Really dramatic swelling. Lip swelling. Eyelid swelling. Swelling inside the throat might feel like a tingly tongue, or a child might feel like they're choking. Swelling inside the intestinal tract, a child will vomit. So these are all possible signs of anaphylaxis."
While your kids may not have food allergies, chances are several children in their school are dealing with it every day.
If you ever believe that your child, or a child around you, is having a reaction , call 911.
"The only treatment for anaphylaxis is epinephrine. You might hear of an EPI pen. Children known to be allergic will carry them in their backpacks. Epinephrine basically tells the blood vessels to stop dilating. Quickly clamp down. Close down. Benadryl does not treat anaphylaxis. A lot of parents think that they can just give a dose of Benadryl and that's like giving epinephrine. It is not. Benadryl is not life-saving. Epinephrine is life-saving," Dr. Natterson says.
Food allergies can be deadly, but most are manageable. Especially if the public is more aware of the potential danger.
"My one wish when it comes to allergic families would be that everything could be labeled properly for them, down to the produce that we buy in the fresh section of the market," says Dr. Natterson. "And I think we need to do a better job so that parents can know what they're choosing."
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