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When Food Can Kill
         Barbara A. Killmeyer

Imagine a mother who must keep constant watch on everything her child eats because even a small trace of a food that she is allergic to can kill her. Now imagine having more than one child, involving several different allergies, so you must double your vigilence for foods that, for the majority of the population are fine, but can kill your child. This is the issue facing many families today.

An article in the April issue of Parents magazine said that the most common foods to which babies and toddlers are allergic are milk, eggs, soy, and wheat. Most children will outgrow these allergies by the first grade. However, allergies to shellfish, tree nuts, or peanuts, though less common, are rarely outgrown and cause much more severe reactions.

The average person might say, "Fine, just don't eat shellfish or peanuts," but that would be a gross over simplification. Even trace amounts of the offending food can be the cause of a severe reaction. For instance for a child with an allergy to shellfish a trace amount consists of one five thousandth of a teaspoon and for a peanut allergy a trace amount would be as little as one four thousandth of a peanut. Some parents had to learn about the severity of reactions through the almost tragic experiences of their children and have become confirmed crusaders for public awareness of the conditions and needs of those who suffer from food allergies.

Studies have shown that between 6 and 7 million Americans, or 2 to 2 1/2 percent of the general population, suffer from food allergy and it is estimated that as many as 100 to 200 people die each year from allergic reactions. An estimated 30,000 emergency room visits are the result of food allergy and anaphylaxis outside the hospital setting.

According to The Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Network reaction symptoms can range from mild to severe. The severe or life threatening reactions are called anaphylaxis and can include a tingling sensation in the mouth, swelling of the tongue and the throat, difficulty breathing, hives, vomiting, abdominal cramps, diarrhea, a drop in blood pressure, and loss of consciousness. Symptoms can appear withing minutes to two hours after the person has eaten the food to which he or she is allergic.

Parents of children with food allergies know how difficult life can be for them. "For instance,"said one mother, "If my child who has a shellfish allergy attends a birthday party and the food is catered she cannot eat any chicken fingers, french fries, or pizza. In most cases the fried foods are prepared in the same grease in which shrimp is cooked. The shrimp proteins contaminate the other foods. Many pizza shops now offer seafood pizza. Even the tiniest amount of contact with the seafood can cause a reaction."

In an effort to eliminate possible problems these parents keep two things on hand at all times; Benedryl and an EpiPen. Benedryl is a common, over the counter medication used by sufferers of all types of allergies. EpiPen is an auto injector containing Epinephrine the medication of choice for controlling a severe allergic reaction.

Food allergies do run in families. One child with an allergy, or one or both parents with any type of allergy at all, increases the risk for additional children to develop allergies.

Dr. Hugh Sampson of Mt. Sinai Hospital in New York City is currently working to develop a vaccine that will protect children from peanut allergies.

Unfortunately it is too late for children who are already afflicted with the problem, but it is hoped that in their lifetime they will see a medicine that will keep others from suffering the reactions they have had to experience. At this point though, the major focus must be to educate as many people as possible about the problem of food allergies.

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