Are there more than 10 facts about food allergies? As they say in Minnesota, "You Betcha!" But we don't need to get into every fact or statistic. We're just going to cover some of the more common facts that are important to know.
1. What is a food allergy?A food allergy is a medical condition where an immune system reaction occurs when the body overreacts to a harmless food protein - known as the allergen.
2. Food allergies affect 1 in 13 children. This accounts for about two children per classroom in the United States. Think about that. Two kids per classroom likely have a food allergy. Now I invite you to think about the birthday and holiday celebrations held in schools. Typically, sweet treats are brought in and food becomes center stage. Now consider that these two children in the classroom cannot have these treats. Yes, they most likely (hopefully) have safe alternatives. But think about this situation occurring over and over, each month, watching others eat food that looks tasty and not being able to fully participate. We've always been huge advocates of non-food treats for classroom birthdays and events. Kids LOVE bubbles, pencils, bracelets, and it's something that everyone can have. In addition to food allergies, there are also children with diabetes, in which sweet treats would also affect their participation and health.
3. More than 170 foods have been reported to cause a reaction. So, simply stated, you can pretty much be allergic to anything, but there specific foods that are the more common culprits we typically hear about. In the United States it's the Top 9 (milk, egg, peanut, tree nuts, fish, shellfish, wheat, soy, and sesame). In the UK, it's the Top 14 (milk, egg, peanut, tree nuts, fish, crustaceans, mollusks, wheat, soy, sesame, celery, mustard, sulphur dioxide/sulphites, and lupin).
4. Food allergies are not curable. I sure hope this changes sooner than later. While there are some different therapies available to desensitize, there is no actual cure for food allergies. Food allergies are managed with avoidance and elimination, lots of preparation, clear communication, and an emergency plan and medicine.
5. Anyone can become food-allergic at any age. While it is common in children, anyone, at any age, can become allergic to food. I know many people who have developed food allergies as an adult to food they've eaten their whole lives.
6. Food allergies are not the same as intolerances and sensitivities. A food allergy is an immune system response that can be life-threatening. An intolerance is a digestive system response that may be uncomfortable, but is not life-threatening. So, kind of a big difference. So when asking others about these things, it's important to understand the difference because it could mean a life. For those with food allergies, even a trace of the allergen could cause an anaphylactic reaction.
7. One in four children have had to use epinephrine at school without a prior known food allergy. Yes, you read that correctly. Remember above where I mentioned food allergies can happen to anyone at any time? Around 25% of reactions at school that have used epinephrine were for children that had no previous history of food allergies. Again, this is why it's important to understand the symptoms and know what to do in case of a reaction. This is why I advocate for emergency epinephrine in schools to have on hand. I actually did this in our school district and am so glad I did knowing it could potentially save someone's life. I'll share about how I went about that in another post!
8. Food allergens aren't only in food. This gets tricky as many products we use also contain food proteins. From craft materials and cosmetics to medicine, soap, and other personal care products, food proteins can hide in many unthought of places.
9. Every reaction is an isolated event. Many people believe that because a previous reaction was mild that the next one will be as well. This is a huge misconception! Every reaction is an isolated event and you cannot predict the severity of a reaction. We have personally experienced this a few times. This is why it's important to ALWAYS carry emergency medication because you have to be prepared for anaphylaxis.
10. No food allergen is more or less dangerous than another. We often hear about peanut and tree nuts as being the most severe, but in reality, it depends on each individual and their allergens. While peanut and tree nuts are not as common to outgrow without therapies, every individual and their reaction to their allergens is unique and all should be taken seriously. We have personally had the most severe reactions to cow's milk.
How many of these facts did you know? Did any surprise you? Many of them surprised me before we learned of our children's food allergies. Compassion comes from understanding. The more we seek to understand and learn, the more compassion we can give.
"Seek first to understand and then to be understood." Stephen Covey