American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology
annual conference shows that food allergies are a much more pervasive health challenge than once thought. About 11 million people -- roughly 1-in-25 Americans -- are now believed to be affected by one or more food allergies, a disease triggered by the ingestion or contact with certain foods that may cause life-threatening reactions, or anaphylaxis, according to The Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Network (FAAN), a co-investigator of the nationwide survey.
While peanuts often get the largest share of public scrutiny in the battle to combat food allergies, the study found that seafood allergies affect approximately 6.5 million people -- more than double the 3 million people who confront the day-to-day challenges of having peanut or tree nut allergy.
"It's clear that as we gain a better sense of the numbers of people involved, food allergy represents a serious food safety and health issue in this country," said Anne Muñoz-Furlong, CEO and founder of FAAN (www.foodallergy.org), a patient advocacy group. "Peanuts are the tip of the iceberg. We must also make people equally aware and diligent about the dangers of fish and shellfish, tree nuts, milk, egg, wheat, and soy --the other major food allergy culprits."
Seafood, common in the U.S. diet, includes fish (cod, salmon and tuna, for example), and shellfish (shrimp, crab and lobster, squid, scallop, clams, mussels, and snails). The study showed that a shellfish allergy is reported by 1-in-50 persons and a fish allergy by 1-in-250. The most commonly reported allergic reactions to shellfish were caused by shrimp, crab, and lobster. In the fish group, salmon, tuna, and halibut were the most common causes of reactions.
Like peanuts and tree nuts, a high number of recurrent and severe reactions were reported in the study for seafood allergies. Multiple reactions were reported by 53 percent for fish and 57 percent for shellfish. In 55 percent of fish reactions and 40 percent of shellfish reactions, evaluation by a physician or care in an emergency room was sought. Treatment of severe symptoms and administration of epinephrine, the drug of choice for treating a severe allergic reaction, was reported in only 15 percent of seafood-allergic patients.
"The unexpectedly high rate of severe reactions to seafood, particularly by adults who apparently have multiple reactions, but do not seek medical care, sends an alarming message," says Dr. Scott Sicherer, co-author on the study. "We as physicians may be missing an important chance to diagnose and intervene positively in the care of these adult patients with food allergy."
"Multiple reactions and severe symptoms are common for seafood allergies, yet people do not typically get the care they need," Muñoz-Furlong added. "Often, individuals with seafood allergies believe they can simply avoid the food. However, study after study shows that accidental ingestion is common. If you have a history of seafood reactions, it's vitally important to visit a doctor and, based on a thorough examination, get a prescription to carry epinephrine with you at all times."
A new study released today at the