Food allergies continue to grow into one of the biggest health concerns in the U.S., as roughly 15 million Americans possess some type of food allergy, according to the Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Network. That translates into an estimated nine million adults and six million children who must carefully watch what they eat.
Although many young children eventually outgrow allergies to such food types as milk, eggs, wheat, and soy, studies suggest that children are slower to resolve theses types of allergies than in decades past, with many children still allergic well after the age of five. The persistence of food allergies to stick around longer in children corresponds to other studies that show food allergies on the rise.
A 2008 study released by the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention found an 18 percent increase in people with food allergies between 1997 and 2007. The number of children who possess an allergy to peanuts was seen to have tripled during this same period.
While milk, peanuts, tree nuts (such as walnuts, almonds, pecans, and cashews) eggs, fish, wheat, soy, and shellfish make up roughly 90 percent of the foods people have allergic reactions to, each person with an allergy reacts differently after coming into contact with one of these items. Parents who have children with food allergies and adults with allergies must take care in how they cook and clean around these items.
Cooking and Cleaning Tips
- Parents of children with peanut allergies need to pay close attention to how they go about cleaning their hands after touching peanuts. For example, studies have indicated that peanut oils can be washed off an adult’s hands using running water and soap or commercial wipes, but not by only using an antibacterial gel. Peanut oil can also be cleaned away from counter tops and tables using household cleaning products and sanitizing wipes but only using dishwashing soap will not sufficiently work to clean away the oil. Even though casual exposure to these kinds of oils won’t generally cause an allergic reaction, young children are at greater risk due to the frequency in which their hands are in their mouths.
- While studies have also found that the majority of individuals with a soy or peanut allergies could safely eat highly refined oils made from these products, they should avoid expeller-pressed, cold-pressed, or extruded oils. Parents should talk to their doctor about what oils are safe for their child to eat.
- The vapor and steam released from cooking food items such as milk and fish have the potential to cause allergic reactions, but this is rare and generally only happens when cooking fish. Reactions from this type of exposure generally mimic they symptoms of hay fever or asthma.
Be Careful When Dining Out
Studies have shown that roughly half of all fatal food allergies reactions occur when a person eats something served to them while dining out. One such study, which looked at nut allergy reactions, found that the majority of allergic nut reactions occurred due to a dessert eaten while out, and that Asian restaurants, bakeries, and ice cream shops commonly served foods that caused reactions. However, in most cases the patron failed to notify the restaurant of any known allergies prior to eating.
According to the CDC, food allergy reactions often occur while eating out due to cross contamination during food preparation. So even if an item order was believed safe, the possibility still exists that either the item, plate, or silverware used during the meal may have caused a reaction due to inadvertent employee contamination. To guard against these types of exposures, health experts suggest individuals with severe food allergies carry some type of self-administrable epinephrine with them at all times, such as an EipPen, Twinject, or Adrenaclick.
Timothy Lemke blogs about health topics for Dr. Brett Johnson, a dentist in Oregon City.