Researchers estimate that up to 15 million Americans have food allergies. This includes nearly 6 million children under the age of 18.
Robert A. Wood,
M.D., FAAAAI, President, American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology
These allergies affect about 1 in 13 children, or roughly two in every classroom. Even more alarming is how much more common having a food allergy appears to have become in a short period of time, and how dangerous it can be.
Food allergy is the most common cause of anaphylaxis, a serious, life-threatening allergic reaction, in outpatient settings. Estimates suggest emergency room visits for food-induced anaphylaxis occur every six minutes in the United States, and the rates are increasing.
While we are certainly excited about treatments for food allergy that are on the horizon, their availability will not make food-induced anaphylaxis a thing of the past. Improved patient education, combined with the increasing awareness of food allergy among the general public, will hopefully lead to fewer reactions over time, but each and every reaction has the potential to be severe or fatal.
Prompt and effective treatment of anaphylaxis by all health care providers is of paramount importance for providing the best possible care for patients with a food allergy.
The prevention and treatment of food allergy
These are exciting times in the world of food allergy. We now know that many cases can be prevented, and clear guidelines for the prevention of a peanut allergy, which relies on early introduction of peanuts into infant diets, have been developed.
Dramatic progress has also been made in the development of treatments. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) will likely approve therapies for peanut allergy in the near future. Treatments will vary; whether it’s eating small amounts of peanut (oral immunotherapy) or applying peanut to the skin via a patch (epicutaneous immunotherapy). These are progressing through the large clinical studies needed to ensure that these approaches are safe and effective.
Other approaches for the treatment of peanut and other allergies are also under active study; there’s potential that new and better treatments will emerge over time. The key will then be to identify the best treatment for each patient. However, this should happen without losing sight of the dangers of anaphylaxis.