Food allergies can be scary — and it's even scarier when you or a loved one has a reaction to something you didn't even know you were allergic to in the first place. President Obama is expected to sign a bill requiring schools to stockpile epinephrine, a medication for people with severe allergies, which is usually given through an EpiPen injection. The allergy-related deaths of two young girls spurred the bill: Katelyn Carlson, 13, died in a Chicago school in 2010, and Ammaria Johnson, 7, died in a Chesterfield County, Va., school in 2012. The number of children with food allergies in the United States has grown about 50 percent since the late 1990s, affecting about 1 in 20 kids, according to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention survey. The FDA lists eight major food allergens, which account for 90 percent of allergic reactions. But what are the most common food allergies? Before you stuff your face on Thanksgiving turkey, let's break them down.
Photo via Flickr: Marcin Wichary
Don't Got Milk?
Milk is the number one culprit of food allergies in the United States. It's most common in babies and young children, though tots tend to outgrow milk allergies. An allergy to dairy is different than lactose intolerance: An allergy can be life-threatening, whereas an intolerance only causes digestion problems. Got milk allergies? If you've ever accidentally ingested some dairy, you can probably relate to the wisdom of Ron Burgundy: "Milk was a bad choice."
Not everyone is able to enjoy the pure joy of the protein-packed egg quite as much as Debbie in The Amanda Show. Eggs are the second allergy culprit on the FDA's list. An egg allergy can cause rashes, nasal inflammation, and vomiting, but reactions range from mild to severe. Eggs rarely cause the life-threatening reaction of anaphylaxis, according to the Mayo Clinic.
People with fish allergies sure have to be careful. They should completely stay out of seafood restaurants, avoid foods that contain anchovies — including Caesar dressing and Worcestershire sauce (bummer) — and make sure their lotions, cosmetics, and medicine don't contain fish products. But steering clear of seafood is just normal life for all of us weirdos (guilty) who can't even stand the smell of fish.
The next big food allergen is crustacean shellfish, which includes crab, lobster, and shrimp. Once you develop an allergy to these undersea dwellers, you're unlikely to get rid of it (sorry). Reactions are different for every person, but what causes them is the same: Your body thinks certain shellfish proteins are dangerous and releases antibodies to kill them, sending out chemicals that manifest themselves in a runny nose, breakout of hives, diarrhea, or difficulty breathing.
A Little Nuts
Aw, nuts. An allergy to tree nuts such as almonds, walnuts, hazelnuts, cashew, pistachios and Brazil nuts can put a sufferer at serious risk. Every slice of cake and every bite of a cookie must be questioned. But as Elizabeth Weingarten at Slate points out, her nut allergy has made her more independent and assertive at restaurants — simply because she wants to live if she accidentally ingests a nut. Peanuts are not included in this category, since they are technically legumes.
Just Jelly Time
Not so fast, Mr. Peanut. You're included in this list as well. Allergic reactions to peanuts can cause severe anaphylaxis in as many as one-third of peanut-sensitive patients. In addition, peanut allergies may run in the family: They affect seven percent of siblings of people with the allergy. So if you're affected, stay away from those tiny airline peanut bags. Interestingly, this week it was revealed that a boy's bone marrow transplant actually may have not only rid him of his cancer, but of his peanut allergy as well.
The Gluten-Free Rage
Allergies to wheat and gluten products are definitely the hot topic of the moment. All types of wheat flour, couscous, bran, semolina, wheatberries, cereal, beer, hot dogs (?), ice cream (??), and pasta are no-no's for people suffering with wheat allergies. With the swift advent of the gluten-free boom, however, sometimes it seems like more attention is being shifted to it as a fad rather than a serious condition. What people may not understand is that wheat and gluten allergies are two separate issues. A person with a wheat allergy may be allergic to gluten, but there are a bunch of other allergens to avoid. A gluten allergy is a broad term to define a condition such as celiac disease, where people cannot process the gluten protein. Also, beware: Not all gluten-free foods are actually void of wheat products.
No Soybeans For You
Have you ever actually eaten a whole soybean? Then why are they listed in the FDA's top food allergens list? Turns out, in the United States, even though actual soybeans are not popular, they are used in a lot of processed foods. And the U.S. is king of processed foods, making up a whopping 70 percent of our diets. But if trans-fats are banned in America, farmers could be facing a loss of about 4 million acres of yearly soybean production.