On Dec. 3, I was honored to be the Master of Ceremonies at the annual New York Food Allergy Ball to benefit Food Allergy Research & Education (FARE), a wonderful organization dedicated to bringing life, health and hope to 15 million Americans living with food allergies.
Food allergies are serious and potentially life-threatening conditions. Shockingly, one in every 13 children has a food allergy and every 3-minutes, a food allergy reaction sends someone to the emergency room. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) mandates that ingredient labels for packaged foods must name in plain English the eight most common food allergens: milk, egg, peanut, tree nut, soy, wheat (gluten), fish and shellfish.
What Causes a Food Allergy?
A food allergy happens when your immune system overreacts to a harmless food protein – an allergen. Mild to moderate symptoms include hives, redness of skin, itchy mouth or ear canal, nausea or vomiting, stomach pain, diarrhea, congestion, sneezing and dry cough, among others. More severe symptoms include trouble swallowing, wheezing and loss of consciousness.
When Do Food Allergies Develop?
Food allergies may start at any age, in childhood or during adulthood. We don’t know all the causes of food allergies, but research suggests family history plays a role. Reactions can vary unpredictably from mild to severe.
How Do We Treat Food Allergies?
Currently there is no cure for food allergies, but epinephrine can be used to treat a food allergy reaction and prevent symptoms from progressing. Two possible treatments for peanut allergy – a standardized peanut product for oral immunotherapy and a patch worn on the skin that contains peanut protein – have completed large, multicenter clinical trials and might receive FDA approval in 2019. Earlier this year, FARE took a detailed look at the search for food allergy treatments.
Can We Prevent Food Allergy?
In some cases, yes. In 2015, Learning Early About Peanut Allergy (LEAP) was the first major study to look at whether feeding babies a specific food was likely to increase or decrease their risk of allergy. Children at high risk for peanut allergy had a much lower chance (81 percent) of developing peanut allergy if they ate peanut foods regularly starting before age 1 than if they avoided peanut until age 5. One year later, a follow-up study found that the children who ate peanut as infants could avoid the food from ages 5 to 6, and still not develop peanut allergy. FARE helped fund both of these studies.
Want to Learn More About Food Allergy?
Check out the latest in food allergy education, research, advocacy and awareness on foodallergy.org.