Food allergies may be a lot more common than anyone realized. In fact, a new study published in the journal Pediatrics suggests that about six million kids in the U.S. experience allergic reactions to food. And some kids are being put at needless risk by parents who buy into common misconceptions about food allergy.
About 12 million people in the U.S. have food allergies. That's one in 25, or 4 percent of the population. Food allergies are more prevalent among young children - one in 17 under the age of 3 has food allergies.
Myth: Food allergies aren't dangerous
Food allergies can be life-threatening. Anaphylaxis is a severe allergic reaction that comes on rapidly and can be fatal.
Myth: It can take days for allergic symptoms to appear
Symptoms of allergic reactions typically occur within minutes to two hours after the individual has ingested the food to which he/she is allergic.
Myth: One little bite is okay
If someone is truly allergic, even a bit of the allergy-causing food can be risky. In fact, less than one little bite can cause a severe reaction. Some people with food allergies have experienced reactions to trace amounts of the allergen in the food.
Myth: Peanuts are the only food that cause severe reactions
While it is true that peanuts can cause very serious reactions, other foods have been known to cause severe reactions as well. These include tree nuts, fish, shellfish, and milk.
Myth: A food can be made less allergenic by cooking it
A food allergy is an immune system response to a protein in a food. Since the protein remains in the food during heating, you cannot make a food less allergenic by cooking it. The exception to this general rule is sometimes seen with egg and milk allergy. Some people with egg allergy are able to consume egg or milk that has been extensively heated and in smaller amounts, such as in baked goods. Ask your doctor before trying this.
Also, many people with allergy to raw fruit/vegetable based upon having hay fever (pollen allergy) tolerate the heated forms.
Myth: A positive skin prick test means a reaction to the food
A positive skin prick test can be highly predictive of a food allergy. But these tests can sometimes yield a "false positive" result. An "oral food challenge" is the most definitive test to determine whether you have a food allergy. Consult your allergist for advice.
Myth: Adults don't develop new food allergies
Though most food allergies arise in early childhood, they can develop at any age - even in adulthood.
Myth: Reactions get worse each time you have one
Allergic reactions are unpredictable. When they occur, they can be the same, less severe than, or more severe than previous reactions. Additionally, a person with food allergies might not always experience the same symptoms of an allergic reaction (for example, an individual may have hives with one reaction, and vomiting with a subsequent reaction). The nature of a reaction depends on a person's level of allergy and how much of the allergy-causing food was ingested.