Peanut butter and jelly: Once a popular lunchbox sandwich, now a potential nightmare. That's because tree nut and peanut allergies are becoming more widespread and dangerous, says a recent study.
Researchers found that medical claims for the treatment of food-related emergency allergic reactions are skyrocketing. In the past several years, claims have increased by 133 percent in Indiana, 201 percent in Illinois and 377 percent nationwide.
Of those cases, almost half were due to a nut allergy.
Allergic Reactions To Food
An allergic reaction to food is caused by the immune system overreacting and responding to a harmless substance as if it were a major threat. This immune system response starts a cascade of symptoms that can block airways, cause blood pressure to plummet and may even lead to death.
There's no cure for food allergies. The best approach is prevention and knowing the signs of a severe allergic reaction.
Signs Of Anaphylaxis
Anaphylaxis is the term used to describe a life-threatening allergic reaction. Recognize the signs of anaphylaxis – and know when to call for immediate medical help.
A severe allergic reaction usually starts within 30 minutes after exposure to an allergen but can sometimes take more than an hour. Anaphylaxis symptoms include:
- Hives, rash or itching
- Nausea or vomiting
- Lip or tongue swelling
- Coughing or throat discomfort
- Trouble swallowing or breathing
- Dizziness or lightheadedness
- Stomach cramping or diarrhea
- Feeling like something awful is about to occur
Three Steps To Take In An Anaphylaxis Emergency
Fast action is essential when a severe allergic reaction occurs. Here are the steps to take:
Step #1: Epinephrine
Administer an epinephrine injection (EpiPen®), if available. This adrenaline-like drug counteracts the immune response. Many people with known food allergies carry one, so if someone is having a reaction, ask if they have an EpiPen on them. You typically inject the medicine directly into the thigh.
Step #2: Call 911
Call 911 and seek emergency care. It's crucial to get immediate care because anaphylaxis can quickly worsen, even if the person already received an epinephrine injection.
One dose may not be enough to control the symptoms. Also, a second wave of anaphylaxis can occur four to eight hours after the initial episode.
While waiting for 911 to arrive, you can loosen tight clothing and cover the person with a blanket. Turn them onto their side to prevent choking if they vomit. If breathing stops, begin CPR.
Step #3: Identify the cause
Identifying the foods and ingredients the person ate recently can help narrow down the cause of the reaction. If you can determine the cause, report it to the medical team. An allergy specialist will also want to know the possible foods that triggered the attack.
Avoid Provoking Nut Allergies
Because food allergies in children are increasing, be especially thoughtful about what you pack for your child's lunch and the treats you serve at children's events. Check allergy warnings on packaged goods. There are lots of allergy-friendly recipes for potlucks that you can find, too, when you need to bring a sharable dish to an event.
Food Allergy Testing
If you suspect that you or your child may be allergic to peanuts, tree nuts or another type of food, take it seriously. Every three minutes, a food allergy sends someone to the emergency room.
An allergist, a doctor who specializes in asthma and allergies, can perform food allergy testing. There are three types of tests:
- Skin prick test: The doctor creates small scratches on the skin and applies different allergen solutions. After a few minutes, the doctor checks the area. If the skin becomes red and itchy, it indicates an allergy to that substance.
- Blood test: This test measures how your immune system responds to different foods. Doctors can check for substances in your blood to see if your immune system is perceiving a certain food as a threat.
- Food challenge test: During this test, you ingest or inhale small amounts of allergens, under the supervision of an allergist.
For more information on allergy testing, contact a specialist in allergy and immunology.