This week is food allergy awareness week. Food allergy unfortunately is a growing public health concern affecting up to 15 million people in the United States, including 1 in 13 children. Eight foods account for 90% of food allergies in the US: milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, wheat, soy, fish and shellfish. The majority of food allergies are in children and milk, egg, soy and wheat allergies are more likely to be outgrown.
There are some new developments in helping speed the resolution of egg and milk allergies. There are also studies underway looking at desensitizing an individual to food allergies. This entails giving very small doses of the allergenic food over time. These are still experimental and other further studies are looking at giving medications while desensitizing the individual to the food allergy. I am in the very early stages of setting up some of these studies here in Minnesota. This should not be done at home without the advice of a specialist. Right now the best treatment is antihistamines (Benadryl or Zyrtec) for a mild reaction or epinephrine for severe. If in doubt it is better to give the epinephrine. Avoidance is always key but is easier said than done. I personally am allergic to tree nuts and still occasionally despite being vigilant have an accidental exposure. Therefore, it is often beneficial to have a plan in place in case of exposure. For further information contact the Food Allergy Support Group of MN or Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network of Minnesota.