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According to the CDC, food allergies affect an estimated 15 million persons in the United States and are responsible for approximately 30,000 emergency department visits and 150–200 deaths each year. Each year in the U.S., 200,000 people require emergency medical care for allergic reactions to food, says Foodallergy.org. In most cases, food allergies are lifelong conditions and reactions can happen quickly and without much warning.
And food allergies are on the rise. The CDC report that the prevalence of food allergy in children increased by 50 percent between 1997 and 2011. Peanut allergies alone in children have tripled from 1997-2008 according to F.A.R.E. Adults can also develop food allergies to foods they have eaten for years with no problems.
The Mayo Clinic defines food allergy as: an immune system reaction that occurs soon after eating a certain food. Even a tiny amount of the allergy-causing food can trigger signs and symptoms such as digestive problems, hives or swollen airways. The American College for Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology says, “a food allergy reaction occurs when your immune system overreacts to a food or a substance in a food, identifying it as a danger and triggering a protective response.”
The symptoms of an allergic reaction to food can range from mild (itchy mouth, a few hives) to severe (throat tightening, difficulty breathing). In general, symptoms can include:
Most food-related symptoms occur within two hours of ingestion; often they start within minutes. In some very rare cases, the reaction may be delayed by four to six hours or even longer. Delayed reactions are most typically seen in children who develop eczema as a symptom of food allergy and in people with a rare allergy to red meat caused by the bite of a lone star tick.
The Mayo Clinic also notes that it is easy to confuse a food allergy with a much more common reaction known as food intolerance. While bothersome, food intolerance is a less serious condition that does not involve the immune system.
Anaphylaxis can cause life-threatening signs and symptoms, including:
Emergency treatment is critical for anaphylaxis. Untreated, anaphylaxis can cause a coma or even death.
Those with an allergic reaction require immediate treatment to reduce the risk of death and/or long term complications. F.A.R.E. says:
In humans, fatal anaphylaxis is very difficult to study because it is rare, unpredictable, and often unwitnessed. In addition, there may be few postmortem findings and laboratory tests may be negative.
Due to the concern for anaphylaxis, and the rise in food allergies as a whole, it is a good idea to seek medical attention every time you have an allergic reaction. You never know how severe your reaction may be. Even if you have used an Epi-pen, you should seek medical attention.
Just because an initial reaction causes few problems doesn’t mean that all reactions will be similar; a food that triggered only mild symptoms on one occasion may cause more severe symptoms at another time.
The Food Allergy Labeling and Consumer Protection Act of 2004 (FALCPA) states that manufacturers of packaged food products in the United States identify and label, in simple, clear language, the presence of any of the nine most common food allergens – milk, egg, wheat, soy, peanut, tree nut, fish, crustacean shellfish, and sesame as of January of 2023 – in their products. The presence of the allergen must be stated even if it is only an incidental ingredient, as in an additive or flavoring.
However, most allergic reactions are caused by restaurant exposures. A 2017 study showed that, nearly half of fatal food allergy reactions over a 13-year period were caused by food from a restaurant or other food service establishment – rather than a packaged food item.
Oftentimes, restaurants and their staff have not undergone food allergy training. This is why those with food allergies need to be extra careful when eating in restaurants. Waiters (and sometimes the kitchen staff) may not always know the ingredients of every dish on the menu. Depending on your sensitivity, even just walking into a kitchen or a restaurant can cause an allergic reaction. This is why it is important to always read the menu, ask the server to talk to the kitchen about ingredients and cross-contamination, check for warnings, and generally let the restaurant know you have an allergy.
In addition to reading labels and living restaurants the knowledge of your allergy, there are other ways you can protect yourself. The best way to protect yourself is to get tested for food allergies and, if you have tested positive, keep an Epi-pen on hand. If you do have a reaction, don’t just rely on Benadryl and your Epi-pen. You should also seek medical attention.
Have you or a loved one suffered from a food allergy injury or death due to unsafe food practices? If so, our experienced food allergy lawyer at The Lange Law Firm, PLLC is eager to help. Speak to a food allergy lawyer today and receive a free case evaluation to see you have a claim.