Food allergies are common and unfortunately are oftentimes quite dangerous. According to the nonprofit organization Food Allergy Research & Education (FARE), up to 15 million Americans, including 6 million children, are allergic to some food. The most common food allergies — which make up an estimated of 90 percent of all allergic reactions — are milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, fish, shellfish, soy, and wheat. Because of the possible severe consequences of an allergic reaction from one of these foods, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requires these eight items to always be listed on food labels, even if the product itself does not contain any of them but might possibly have been in contact with the allergen. So what are the most dangerous food allergies, and why are they so dangerous?
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, food allergies result in more than 300,000 ambulatory care visits per year among children under the age of 18. FARE reports equally shocking numbers: every three minutes, a person is sent to the emergency department because of food allergies, adding up to more than 200,000 emergency department visits per year. The good news is that most of these cases are not deadly, and the patients can walk away from the hospital after treatment. Reportedly, food allergies cause somewhere among 150 to 200 deaths a year in the U.S. — not a number to take lightly, but still a positive outlook if compared with the number of emergency room visits.
So why are certain food allergies more dangerous than others? What causes a food allergy to become deadly is if the reaction is so severe that it causes anaphylaxis. Anaphylaxis is a reaction — most commonly caused by food allergies — that can affect several areas of the body and complicate breathing and blood circulation. FARE states that the foods most likely to cause a severe reaction are peanuts, tree nuts, fish, and shellfish. It is also worth remembering that people who suffer from both asthma and a food allergy are at greater risk for anaphylaxis.
Though it is hard to determine which specific foods are the most dangerous, one food item clearly ranks at the top: peanuts. It's estimated that around 50 to 62 percent of food allergy-related fatal cases of anaphylaxis were caused by a reaction to peanuts.
According to FARE, one of the most important — and yet little-known — facts about food allergies is that a food allergy can vary greatly not only from person to person, but on a case-by-case scenario. Someone who always had a mild reaction to a food item, might at any time have a severe reaction, as reactions are unpredictable and can change unexpectedly.
If you have a food allergy, or are with someone who does, remember to be extra careful of what foods and drinks are being served, whether you are traveling or just dining out. Tell your server about your allergies and remind them that even the slightest contact with the allergy-causing food can be a risk for you. Because when it comes to your health, it is definitely better to be safe than sorry!