Many people think food allergies cause a bit of stomach upset or a skin rash, not realizing that for a growing number of the population, food allergies can be deadly.
I’m Not Nuts: Living With Food Allergies is a documentary that sheds some light on this rising issue through interviews with families that are directly affected.
While it’s widely accepted that a bee sting can cause anaphylaxis, a type of severe allergic reaction that can be deadly, stings cause about 40 US deaths a year compared to 100 deaths from food. In fact, food is the most common trigger for anaphylaxis.1
When Food Turns Deadly
As Dr. Ben Song of the Allergy & Immunology Associates of Ann Arbor explained in the film, there may be a generational gap that’s causing the seriousness of food allergies to often be downplayed as, quite simply, deadly food allergies were a rarity just 40 or 50 years ago.
Yet today an estimated one out of every 13 children has a food allergy,2 and the incidence is increasing. From 1997 to 2007, food allergies increased 18 percent among children under 18 years,3 and according to UK data, hospitalizations for food allergy increased by 500 percent from 1990 to 2006.4 In the US, about 90,000 people visit the emergency room due to food allergies every year.5
Often, the allergy is to a very commonly eaten food. In the US, the following eight foods account for 90 percent of all food-allergic reactions, though, as Dr. Song explained, other foods, such as sesame seeds and legumes, are becoming more frequent allergens as well.
Identifying Symptoms is Difficult, Especially in Young Children
Sometimes a food allergy occurs the first time a new food is eaten. Other times you can develop an allergy literally overnight to a food you’ve eaten your entire life. In the featured film, one woman described the swelling and tightness in her throat that suddenly appeared after she ate a tuna sandwich – a food she’d long enjoyed.
Another parent watched her 1-year-old daughter scratch her hands almost to the point of bleeding after giving her a piece of birthday cake, only to later find out she had an egg allergy.
Many parents will understandably confuse frequent crying due to allergies with signs of hunger in their babies, leading them to feed more of the allergenic food, such as milk. This causes a vicious cycle of more symptoms and more crying until the real culprit is uncovered.
When you’re allergic to a substance, your immune system mistakenly believes it is dangerous and produces immunoglobulin E (IgE) antibodies in an attempt to neutralize it. Chemicals such as histamine released into your bloodstream during this process can lead to a battery of symptoms any time you eat the food (although symptoms may not appear until hours later). These include:
Tingling or itching in your mouth
Swelling anywhere in your body, especially your lips, face, tongue and throat
Wheezing and trouble breathing
Nausea and vomiting
Fainting and dizziness
Anaphylaxis (tightening of airways, swelling in your throat, difficulty breathing)