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Safety Pro

Food Alergies - Can You Survive Them?

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11/01/2010 - Milk, eggs, peanut butter, bread, macaroni and cheese sounds like a pick-up-after-work grocery list. Most people wouldn't give it a second thought. For 11 million Americans, however, any combination of these items could cause rapid death!

Peanuts, for example, are the third largest food allergy in the United States (beat out only by eggs and milk). If you aren't allergic to them, you may think it's all in people's heads. As an emergency medical responder, I went on a call when I lived in Virginia to a popular local grill for a college girl experiencing 'difficulty breathing.' She was already dead when we arrived just seven minutes later. She had a severe allergic reaction, called Anaphylaxis, due to her allergy to peanuts. She ordered chili, not knowing peanut butter was used as a thickener in the chili.

Have you as a parent received a letter from your kids' teachers warning about what types of foods to not bring to class due to a student's allergy to that food? Is that child yours?

According to the Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network (FAAN), up to 200 people die each year from food allergies and another 2,000 are hospitalized. And, according to FAAN, that number is growing rapidly.

Food manufacturers are beginning to realize the importance of this problem. Labels now contain language about peanut-based ingredients; allergen-free foods are becoming more readily available for consumers; awareness levels throughout the population are growing.

For those of us with family members who suffer from food allergies - such as lactose, gluten, and peanuts there may not be a medical test available to determine such allergies. It often becomes a parental nightmare and a trial-and-error elimination of foods to diagnose the main culprits.

In my family, for example, anything peanut-base and moderate concentrations of lactose were not diagnosed by a physician but found only after surviving toddler years and closely observing and tracking what items were being consumed and when.

For many types of allergies, numerous treatments are available, such as prescription medications and injections. For food allergies, we don't have those options. Only through trial and error can we identify the problem food, avoid it, have prescribed epinephrine ready, and get to the hospital.

The future looks promising, however, as clinical studies are now underway to offer three different treatments that primarily build up tolerance levels. These include oral immunotherapy (under close supervision, patients begin with tiny but gradually increasing amounts of the foods that trigger a reaction), sublingual therapy (drops containing allergy-proteins are placed under the tongue to absorb into the bloodstream), and food allergy herbal formula (a pill NOT available in stores containing a Chinese herbal remedy). These new clinical trials require a long-term commitment from patients and parents, leading to what many hope to be safe and effective treatments in the future.

Until then, watch what you and your kids eat. Discuss any allergic reactions with your physician, and know the signs of Anaphylaxis (severe allergic reaction). Stay safe at home!

Randy DeVaul (safetypro@raoadrunner.com) is a 30-year safety professional and emergency medical responder/instructor and creator of 'Safe At Home' (www.safeathomeonline.com). Comments are always welcome.

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