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Health Matters: Food Allergy Facts

Tuesday, Mar 28, 2017
Food Allergies

If you think more children have food allergies these days than in the past, you're right.

The prevalence of food allergies appears to be on the rise. According to a study released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in 2013, food allergies among children increased approximately 50% between 1997 and 2011.

Nearly 6 million or 8% of children have food allergies, with young children affected most.

Our guests for this episode of Health Matters include board-certified allergist Shashank Sheth, MD, who has special training in Pediatrics, Internal Medicine and Allergy and Clinical Immunology. He actually has peanut and tree nut allergies himself and this attracted him to the field. Dr. Sheth explains that the rate of allergies to peanuts increased when parents stopped giving their children peanut-containing foods until age 3 or so in the late 1990s and early 2000s. New guidelines suggest introducing things like peanut butter to babies around 6 months of age. Consult your doctor about introducing these foods to your baby.

Food Allergies

Health Matters Food Allergies from Central Bucks School District on Vimeo.

Along with the rise in the number of children with food allergies there has been an increase in public awareness about the issue. In the Central Bucks School District, 1,733 students have documented food allergies. Teachers and staff are taught how to work with these students to prevent any type of allergic reaction throughout the school day.

Certified school nurse Lauren Myrtetus from Tamanend Middle School discusses the action plan for each student created with the student's physician and parents. Stella Bredin, a certified school nurse for Cold Spring and Linden Elementary Schools, adds that the schools have peanut- and nut-free tables in the cafeterias and parents who might be bringing in food for a classroom party are notified about any allergies that exist.

Several foods account for most food allergies. They include milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts (walnuts, almonds, cashews, pistachios, pecans), wheat, soy, fish and shellfish. Peanuts, nuts and seafood are the most common causes of severe allergic reactions, which can be life threatening.

Our panel of experts discusses the range of allergic reactions, from something mild like skin irritation and rash to difficulty breathing and anaphylaxis, a severe allergic reaction that needs to be treated immediately. In these cases, the individual or someone nearby needs to administer an epinephrine (adrenaline or EPI pen) shot as soon as possible, and someone should call 911 for emergency medical help. Each year, all CB Schools staff are trained how to administer an epinephrine shot. If a student is given a shot due to a severe allergic reaction, the student is required to be taken by ambulance to the Emergency Room.

During a special video segment of this episode, co-host Ashley Heidler, BSN, RN, Pediatric Outreach Manager for Doylestown Health, demonstrates how to use an EPI pen.

The panel also discusses who is at higher risk of developing a food allergy, as well as the difference between a food allergy and food intolerance (like lactose intolerance). Food allergies usually present in infancy or early childhood, but adults can develop allergies later in life.

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