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Labels Aid Food Allergy Sufferers

A food allergy can make a food that's safe for most people deadly for others. Allergic reactions to food result in hundreds of deaths every year in this country.

Recent studies estimate that more than 7 million Americans have a food allergy, and about 30,000 Americans receive life-saving treatment in emergency rooms.

The only way for someone with food allergies to keep from having a potentially life-threatening allergic reaction is to completely avoid foods and products that contain the allergens. So food-allergic consumers depend on food labels to make life-and-death decisions.

The Early Show medical correspondent Dr. Emily Senay reports this week that the U.S. House of Representatives is likely to pass a bill called the Food Allergen Labeling And Consumer Protection Act. The bill currently requires food manufacturers to clearly state if a product contains any of the eight major food allergens responsible for more than 90 percent of all allergic reactions.

Those allergens are milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, fish, shellfish, wheat, and soy.

The bill is intended to require every-day language and complete lists of food ingredients.

People who suffer from food allergies have to be really careful to avoid those allergens, and many have to read food labels very carefully for every food product they purchase. That's not as easy as it seems, because sometimes the language used in ingredient statements is not that clear.

For instance, how many of us know that "albumin" refers to an egg component, "caseinate" is a milk component, and "textured vegetable protein" refers to soy? Other common labeling terms such as "natural flavors" could refer to powerful peanut or tree nut allergens, or any other food, for that matter.

Food allergies can quickly cause anaphylaxis, when the body reacts to the allergen and causes a severe and life-threatening reaction.

Anaphylaxis symptoms include:

  • Hives
  • Swelling of the lips, tongue and throat
  • Shortness of breath or wheezing
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • A drop in blood pressure
  • Unconsciousness

Anaphylaxis is a medical emergency requiring immediate medical attention. Sometimes people who knows they have food allergies will carry epinephrine injection kits to provide an antidote to anaphylaxis just in case they accidentally come in contact with the food to which they're allergic.
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