NPR Special Report: How Safe is the Food Supply?
Food-Based Allergies: Fact File
Food Allergy Facts
Eight foods account for 90 percent of the allergic reactions. They are
peanuts, tree nuts (walnuts, pecans, etc.), fish, shellfish, eggs, milk,
soy, and wheat.
In adults, the majority of allergic reactions involve peanuts, tree nuts, fish and shellfish. In kids, the majority of allergic reactions involve peanuts, tree nuts, eggs, milk, soy and wheat.
Physicians are reporting an increase in the number of food-allergic
patients in the country.
Individuals with food allergies and asthma appear to be at an increased
risk for severe allergic reaction.
Most individuals that have had a reaction ate a food that they thought
Food allergies are the leading cause of anaphylaxis outside the hospital
setting,accounting for an estimated 30,000 emergency room visits and
2,000 hospitalizations each year.
Frequently Asked Questions
What happens in the body during a food-allergic
The immune system mistakenly believes that a harmless substance, in
this case a food item, is harmful. In its attempt to protect the body, it
creates specific IgE antibodies to that food. These antibodies attach
themselves to cells called "mast cells." When the individual eats that
food, the food attaches itself to the antibody, causing the mast cell to
explode and release massive amounts of chemicals and histamines
throughout the body. These chemicals trigger a cascade of allergic
symptoms that can affect the respiratory system, gastrointestinal tract,
skin, or cardiovascular system.
What are the common symptoms of a reaction?
Symptoms range from a tingling sensation in the mouth, swelling of the
tongue and the throat, difficulty breathing, hives, vomiting, abdominal
cramps, diarrhea, drop in blood pressure, loss of consciousness, to
death. Symptoms typically appear within minutes to two hours after
the person has eaten the food to which he or she is allergic.
What is the best treatment for food allergies?
Strict avoidance of the allergy-causing food is the only way to avoid a
reaction. Reading ingredient labels for all foods is the key to
maintaining control over the allergy. If a product doesn't have a label,
allergic individuals should not eat that food. If the label contains
unfamiliar terms, shoppers must call the manufacturer and ask for a
definition or avoid eating that food.
What is the best treatment for a food allergy reaction?
Epinephrine, also called adrenaline, is the medication of choice for
controlling a reaction. It is available by prescription in an EpiPenŽ
What is the difference between food allergy and food
Many people think the terms food allergy and food intolerance mean
the same thing; however, they do not. A food intolerance is a
metabolic disorder and does not involve the immune system. Lactose
intolerance is one example of a food intolerance. A person with
lactose intolerance lacks an enzyme that is needed to digest milk sugar.
When the person eats milk products, symptoms such as gas, bloating,
and abdominal pain may occur.
A food allergy occurs when the immune system reacts to a certain
food protein. The most common form of an immune system reaction
occurs when the body creates immunoglobulin E (IgE) antibodies to
the food. When these IgE antibodies react with the food, histamine
and other chemicals (called mediators) cause hives, asthma, or other
symptoms of an allergic reaction.
Source: The Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network