ER Trips for Food Allergies Higher Than Ever

Filed under: Health & Safety: Babies, In The News, Health & Safety: Toddlers & Preschoolers, Health & Safety: Big Kids, Health & Safety: Tweens, Health & Safety: Teens

peanutbutter picture

Peanut butter is off limits for many kids with food allergies. Credit: Corbis


Parents who want to keep their kids out of ER may want to skip the milk, eggs and peanut butter aisles at the grocery store.

A new study finds that food allergies are sending more Americans to emergency rooms than ever before, Reuters reports.

The findings, published in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, suggest that the number of ER visits from allergic reactions to foods is significantly higher than previous studies suggest, according to Reuters.

Between 2001 and 2005, researchers estimate that Americans made just over a million visits -- about 200,000 a year -- to the ER for allergic reactions to food. About 90,000 of the treks were for serious, sometimes life-threatening allergic reactions known as anaphylaxis, according to the Mayo Clinic.

That number of serious, life-threatening reactions has more than tripled from previous studies in the 1990s that named 30,000 as the often-quoted number for Americans sent to ER each year by food-triggered anaphylaxis.

"While severe, life-threatening food-related allergic reactions are still relatively uncommon, our study suggests that they are more common than previously thought," lead researcher Sunday Clark, of the University of Pittsburgh in Pennsylvania, tells Reuters.

What's more, the findings suggest that ER visits for all levels of allergic reaction to food are more common than past studies have indicated.

One recent report, for example, estimated that Americans made 125,000 trips to the ER for food allergies in 2003, with about 14,000 of those involving anaphylaxis, according to Reuters.

In a study published earlier this year, Clark tells Reuters that she and her colleagues found evidence that more children are turning up in ERs with serious food reactions than in years past.

The number of food-induced allergic reactions treated at Children's Hospital Boston, for example, more than doubled over six years -- from 164 cases in 2001, to 391 in 2006, she says.

The researchers were not able to tell why the figures are rising. But they noted that the increase was in line with the national increase in the number of children being diagnosed with food allergies, according to Reuters.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 3 million school-aged children in the U.S. had a food allergy in 2007, which was up 18 percent from 10 years earlier, according to a CDC release.

What's fueling these growing numbers of food allergies remains a mystery, Clark tells Reuters. But one theory is that changes in children's diets are one contributor. Also, another theory known as the "hygiene hypothesis" holds that modern cleanliness provides less exposure to germs early in life and may make the immune system more prone to attack normally benign substances, including food proteins, according to Reuters.

The findings point to the most common triggers of food allergies, which include milk, eggs, soy, wheat, shellfish, peanuts and tree nuts, like almonds, walnuts and cashews.

Clark tells Reuters that the current findings underscore the importance of recognizing the signs of food-induced allergic reactions -- especially anaphylaxis, which requires emergency treatment.

Food allergy symptoms range from the relatively mild -- limited to problems like tingling in the mouth, hives or upset stomach -- to the more severe signs of anaphylaxis. Those include dizziness or fainting, difficulty breathing and a sudden drop in blood pressure that can lead to shock, she warns.

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Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.