ST. LOUIS (KMOX) – You may know about food allergies because your child’s school has banned treats in the classroom. Or maybe you’ve tuned in for recent stories about the spike in the price of EpiPens.
For people trying to cope with food allergies, the challenges go far beyond outrage over the price of life-saving medications.
Our own Megan Lynch and several other KMOX staffers are among millions of families who have to be on guard daily. If their children are exposed to the wrong food, it could mean a trip to the ER — or worse.
This week on KMOX 1120, Megan takes you inside their world:
For 1 in 13 children in the United States, what they put in their mouths — or even touch — could be life or death.
The number of children diagnosed with food allergies has increased dramatically.
It’s a challenge for schools, and constant worry and heartache for parents.
Peanut butter, bread, cheese, yes, even hot dogs. Foods that are staples in many homes. They contain ingredients — proteins — that some people’s bodies reject as dangerous invaders.
Milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, soy, wheat, fish and shellfish are the top eight — but there are plenty of others.
Even trace amounts can be a problem.
Lila Kurtz is a pediatric nurse practitioner at St. Louis Children’s Hospital. She spends much of her time educating families on what to do.
“The worst kind would be respiratory-associated symptoms, where you truly are having difficulty breathing and now your throat may be closing off.”
An allergic reaction to food can become an emergency in seconds.
The Allergy and Immunology Clinic at Cardinal Glennon Children’s Hospital is seeing more cases every year.
“Trends have been up significantly,” says Dr. Bradley Becker. “Over 100 percent increase in the last 15 years or so for peanut.”
Food allergies overall rose 50 percent in a 14-year span.
While much public focus is put on peanuts, any can be dangerous.
“If you’re severely allergic to milk or egg or tree nuts or fish or shellfish, they can be just as serious,” Becker says.
Researchers are stumped as to why there’s been an explosion.
One of the most quoted theories is the so-called “hygeine hypothesis” – that we’re cleaner, and that’s impacted our immune systems. Others have speculated it’s genetically modified foods or possibly chemicals in the environment. One study is currently looking at whether increased use of folic acid by pregnant women is a cause.
There’s no cure.
Doctors have shifted recommendations on introducing risky foods. Until recently, parents were told to delay.
A landmark study now appears to show that giving a child peanut in the first year of life decreases the risk of peanut reaction later.
Plus, there are some promising therapies. One is called oral immunotherapy. Patients are given increasing amounts of a food to build up tolerance.
But Becker points out, it’s not without grave risks.
“About 30 percent or more of the children do have allergic reactions to the food even after building a dose, and many of these reactions are serious and do require epinephrine,” he says.
Epinephrine — a form of adrenaline. Patients with severe allergies are told to have it on hand at all times.
While food allergies are blamed for more than 200,000 ER visits a year, swift use of epinephrine is often credited with keeping the actual number of deaths from food allergies relatively low.
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