(WEAU) - As students head back to school across the area. Food allergies are a topic on many parents' minds as they plan their kids' lunches and that's the focus of this morning's health beat with Dr. Alicia Arnold.
CE: How prevalent are food allergies now?
AA: About 15 million Americans are affected by a food allergy and about 4-6 percent of U.S. children suffer from food allergies. Data from 1997-2007 showed an 18 percent increase in reported food allergies among young people.
CE: With these numbers being so high, it's easy to see how parents are concerned about exposures to allergens at school.
AA: Studies show that 16%-18% of children with food allergies have had allergic reactions to accidental ingestion of food allergens while in school. Alarmingly, data also shows that about 25% of serious reactions in schools occur among students without a previous food allergy diagnosis.
CE: What are the most severe forms of allergic reactions?
AA: The most severe form is called anaphylaxis. This reaction can affect several areas of the body at once. Anaphylaxis can be life-threatening, and can lead to an individual struggling to breathe, swelling of the throat or tongue, or a serious drop in blood pressure. It can result in death. Most commonly, it occurs within minutes of eating the problem food, but it is possible for it to even occur hours later.
CE: It's probably difficult for young children to explain what is happening the first time they have a reaction to a food.
AA: That's an important point. Young children may not know what is happening, and they may not have the vocabulary to explain to an adult what is going on. Parents and teachers should be on the look-out for young children who try to pull or scratch their tongue or have a sudden change in voice. They may complain about their tongue being itchy or feeling like there is a bump on their tongue. They may say a food is spicy, even when it isn't.
CE: What are the most common food allergies?
AA: 8 particular foods cause about 90 percent of food allergy reactions. These are tree nuts, peanuts, milk, wheat, fish, shellfish, egg, and soy. Although anyone who has a food allergy can experience a severe reaction, the foods most likely to cause an anaphylactic reaction are peanuts, tree nuts, fish and shellfish.
CE: What is the difference between food intolerance and food allergy?
AA: Food intolerance is an unpleasant reaction when your body is unable to break down certain components of food. It may have symptoms like bloating, gas, or diarrhea. It is different than a true food allergy, where immune cells in your body react abnormally to a particular food and produce chemicals that can cause symptoms like hives, eczema, vomiting, or trouble breathing or with blood circulation. If you have a reaction to a particular type of food, see your doctor to help you sort out whether it is a food intolerance or a true allergy.