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Peanut Allergies


mame11
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Last night I spoke with a friend who spent Thanksgiving with a toddler who has a "severe peanut" allergy. I have followed the peanut allergy phenomena with some interest because it seems to have come from nowhere. When I was little, I did have friends with food allergies, strawberry and peanuts being the main forms. However, never did anybody collapse from exposure to peanut dust as has been alleged to happen to kids by many a parent these days.

My post stems from something my friend told me from her weekend: They did not eat at the Museum of the American Indian because peanuts were used in some of the food. My response, well how on earth can they eat out anywhere as I would imagine peanuts or peanut oil are used at most restaurants, and even if they are not used in their pure states then they are ingredients of food used at restaurants.

By the way, some precautions make sense to me... not sending baked goods to school because they may contain food that causes allergic reactions and not giving babies peanuts until they are older than a year seem reasonable.

I ask that the panel of esteemed DR.com food followers educate me as to whether the epidemic of peanut allergies is legit or is it something else...

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Also along this note, at Thanksgiving this weekend someone mentioned in conversation that feeding young children things at early ages can promote allergies later on. I have no kids and no knowledge of this but has anyone read this somewhere or know anything about this? The person who told me doesn't have kids either but said she heard it somewhere and I have been curious since. It seems like something that one of you parents might have read up on so I thought I would throw it out there.

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These questions about the legitimacy of the rise in peanut allergies would be better asked of a pediatric allergist. (Is there a doctor in the house?) However, here is an article on the Harvard Medical School website about the rise in severe peanut allergies in children.

But not eating in a restaurant that might use peanuts seems extreme.
It is hard for me to second guess the actions of parents of severely allergic children - IMO they are only doing what they know to be best for their children.
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They did not eat at the Museum of the American Indian because peanuts were used in some of the food.

They did themselves a very big favor! After all the positive things that I had heard about how much better the food was here versus at the other Smithonian museums I expected a bit more. Truly horrible stuff.

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Wow, Crackers. I am not asking for formal opinions. I am asking out of curiousity, not to imply or question parenting skills. Thanks for the reference to the article.

Since posting I spoke with a dietician and she tells me that there is in fact a marked increase in food allergies in children, it is not a myth. She says that the reason for the increase has not been identified.

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These questions would be better asked of a pediatric allergist than random people who post on a food and drink board. (Is there a doctor in the house?) However, here is an article on the Harvard Medical School website about the rise in severe peanut allergies in children. Why second guess parents of severely allergic children or imply that they are overreacting?
I'm with crackers on this.

Nonetheless, I will opine that the last biomedical journal article I read investigating possible causes of peanut allergies found that early exposure to peanut oil seemed to be the only thing correlated with later development of peanut allergies. (Sorry, I don't remember details of the article (e.g. define 'early').) I read the article in the past 4 years and it was published in a 'major' publication (e.g. NEJM, JAMA). IIRC, peanut oil is actually a common ingredient in skin lotion, so the exposure is transdermal, not the traditional routes most people think of (e.g. exposure to peanut allergens in utero, through breast milk or peanut butter cookie wielding relatives).

Bottom line, regardless of whether anybody thinks the parents of a child with peanut allergies are being goofy or illogical, they're the ones who will have to live with a decision that they may look back on and regret.

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I can't comment on the medical side but I have taught a number of students with severe food allergies, including peanuts. As the adult responsible for these children life became focused on knowing where the epipen was at all times and hoping another parent didn't forget and send in a pb&j sandwich.

There is a small industry for people with the allergy. This site is the one my school used.

Before we went on field trips that involved food we checked with the location to make sure it was safe. We found some restaurants were more willing to work with us than other (but the same could be true about working with my students who were severely disabled). You just learn a different mindset.

The hardest part is often helping other parents realize why their child cannot bring in peanut products in for lunch. It becomes a difficult situation when you have one child who is deathly allergic to a product and another child in the same classroom who will only eat that one product.

One study I read about it (I wish I could find it again) studied a small town that had a number of farms on the outskirts. None of the kids who grew up on the farm had food allergies while a number of kids who grew up in town did. There is some thought that our antigerm society with the onslaught of antibacterial products out there are weakening the immune systems of children. Again, I am not a doctor nor an expert, just someone who has dealt with the issue.

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One study I read about it (I wish I could find it again) studied a small town that had a number of farms on the outskirts. None of the kids who grew up on the farm had food allergies while a number of kids who grew up in town did. There is some thought that our antigerm society with the onslaught of antibacterial products out there are weakening the immune systems of children. Again, I am not a doctor nor an expert, just someone who has dealt with the issue.

This is why my children have no allergies.

(It's also why when someone asks them: "what, were you raised in a barn or something?' they nod and say yes, even though they've never actually lives more than two blocks from a subway stop in their lives.)

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I can't comment on the medical side but I have taught a number of students with severe food allergies, including peanuts. As the adult responsible for these children life became focused on knowing where the epipen was at all times and hoping another parent didn't forget and send in a pb&j sandwich.

There is a small industry for people with the allergy. This site is the one my school used.

Before we went on field trips that involved food we checked with the location to make sure it was safe. We found some restaurants were more willing to work with us than other (but the same could be true about working with my students who were severely disabled). You just learn a different mindset.

The hardest part is often helping other parents realize why their child cannot bring in peanut products in for lunch. It becomes a difficult situation when you have one child who is deathly allergic to a product and another child in the same classroom who will only eat that one product.

One study I read about it (I wish I could find it again) studied a small town that had a number of farms on the outskirts. None of the kids who grew up on the farm had food allergies while a number of kids who grew up in town did. There is some thought that our antigerm society with the onslaught of antibacterial products out there are weakening the immune systems of children. Again, I am not a doctor nor an expert, just someone who has dealt with the issue.

Wow! Thanks Hillvalley. Your perspective is really informative. I know some of my friends have had a hard time adjusting to not sending sweets for their kids birthdays but that seems to be the tip of the iceberg. It is a shame that something we (adults, our ancestors, the general "we") have done has changed the way our kids can eat.
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Wow! Thanks Hillvalley. Your perspective is really informative. I know some of my friends have had a hard time adjusting to not sending sweets for their kids birthdays but that seems to be the tip of the iceberg. It is a shame that something we (adults, our ancestors, the general we) have done has changed the way our kids can eat.
It is a shame, and it is indeed deadly serious - not just for younger children, either. A student at Herndon High (or it might've been Oakton; it's been several years) died after eating a cookie off a plate in the school secretary's office - it turned out later that the cookie she ate hadn't had nuts, but that there had been cookies with nuts on the same plate earlier in the day, and some crumbs/dust ended up on the cookie the student ate.

Some schools have taken it to the point that they actually have classes and cafeterias that are segregated by the kids' allergies. And that's somewhat understandable - if parents of non-allergic kids are up in arms because they can't give their kids PB&Js, can you imagine how they'd react upon being told that they're not allowed to feed their kids anything with nuts for breakfast or take them to someplace that serves peanuts like Five Guys, just because their kid might then track peanut fragments in on their shoes or jacket?

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On the other hand, Southwest airlines gives out packages of peanuts that have a warning label telling consumers that it was packaged in a facility that processes peanuts. This goes too far!
If you look at package labeling you will find a lot of foods that have warning labels that say: This product does not contain peanut products but was packaged in a facility where peanut products are used.
One must hope JPW doesn't have a peanut allergy.
Give him about 11 or 12 years-just as the legume hormones kick in :P
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The hardest part is often helping other parents realize why their child cannot bring in peanut products in for lunch. It becomes a difficult situation when you have one child who is deathly allergic to a product and another child in the same classroom who will only eat that one product.

So for the non-parents (or non peanut allergy familiar) out there like me, just to clarify, let me get this right. In some schools parents are prohibited from sending a pb&j sandwich in a lunch for their own non-allergic child? I understand not sending a treat to share with the whole class, but how does one child eating his own sandwich endanger anyone else? I guess it could be used as a weapon against a kid with a known allergy, but really? Are some allergies that sensitive that someone can't be in the same room as the object of their affliction? What are the physics of that?

Forgive my ignorance, I just don't know how these things work. Also, I was that kid that only ate PB (no jelly for me) sandwiches for 12ish years. Thank God that phase is over now, but I still dig me some skippy and ritz crackers on a frequent basis.

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So for the non-parents (or non peanut allergy familiar) out there like me, just to clarify, let me get this right. In some schools parents are prohibited from sending a pb&j sandwich in a lunch for their own non-allergic child?
Although I'm not a parent (far from it :P ), I have seen numerous instances where Peanut products have been banned by schools.
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Some people have allergies that are so severe that being near someone who ate peanut butter a few hours ago can cause anaphylactic shock. It depends on the severity of the allergy. When parents realize that a child may die people tend to be more understanding, or at least they were at the schools I worked in.

One school I worked for had a peanut free hallway. No type of peanut products (that included things with peanut oil) were allowed. Often other nut butters such as almond aren't a problem so parents end up making substitutions. Many kids had their palates expanded thanks to this one student :P

ETA: The generation of kids with severe allergies are getting older and will soon enter the work place. It will be interesting to see how different employers handle the situation. My guess is that under ADA employers will have to make peanut free zones in the work palce.

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On the other hand, Southwest airlines gives out packages of peanuts that have a warning label telling consumers that it was packaged in a facility that processes peanuts. This goes too far!

Actually, we flew SWAirlines over the T-Day holiday, and the crew announced that there would be no complimentary peanuts on the flight because one passenger had a peanut allergy. In the spirit of T-Day, there were no complaints.

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If you look at package labeling you will find a lot of foods that have warning labels that say: This product does not contain peanut products but was packaged in a facility where peanut products are used.
Yes, but this was a package of peanuts. Nothing else - just peanuts. No shit they were packaged in a facility that contains peanuts.
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I grew up in a rural area, and I never knew anyone who had food allergies. Some of us with some with non-European backgrounds got a little gassy with milk, but it was never "lactose intolerance," people just dealt with themselves. It wasn't until I came East that I met people with multiple allergies. I think that's a little weird, and it makes me think that a lot of allergies are blown out of proportion.

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People will believe what they want. Some people may blow their allergies out of proprortion but here is an example of a death due to peanuts and a random article from CNN.

I'm not disputing that there are deaths due to peanuts, but FYI regarding that peanut kiss article, there was a subsequent article that said the death was not due to the peanut butter kiss. I don't know if there were later reports on the cause of death.

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There is some thought that our antigerm society with the onslaught of antibacterial products out there are weakening the immune systems of children.

I've always personally wanted to believe this, although having witnessed the child of a close friend become seriously ill due to a difficult-to-diagnose food allergy I have grown to see the other side. There is something perversely satisfying in believing that this is Mother Nature's big "Up yours!" response to the massive increase in hermetically-sealed, bubble-wrapped child rearing. That is obviously not the whole story, but I can't believe that it doesn't play a role.

Then again I'm proud to say that I engaged in more-threatening activities by the age of 8 than most of today's kids will experience in a lifetime :P

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I am married to one of these peanut allergy kids, well he is kind of old now... He is allergic to any kind of legume (peanuts are legumes). As a child he would have to be careful on opening the pots in his mother's kitchen as even the steam from beans would make his face and eyes swell up.

His allergies have lessened as he has gotten older. His reaction is not quite as severe.

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My son's preschool was peanut free. Little kids don't fully understand the dangers and often try to share food during lunch time. They also don't wash their hands and faces very well. The kids who would eat nothing but peanut butter at the beginning of the year learned to eat other things.

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When parents realize that a child may die people tend to be more understanding

However, some parents don't seem to care if it is a teacher. A friend of ours who is a teacher in an elementary school has a severe peanut allergy. Since she deals with very young children she is constantly helping the children wash their hands. As a result, her classroom has big signs on the door stating "no peanut products allowed in this room" and the school provided other areas for children to eat who brought peanut products. Apparently, one of the parents was furious, claiming that the teacher was being "selfish" by banning peanut products from her classroom. Out of spite, the parent sent her child to school with a PB&J sandwich EVERY DAY for lunch that year.

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I think that's a little weird, and it makes me think that a lot of allergies are blown out of proportion.

NO it is not blown out of proportion, allergies can be fatal especially at a younger age. We learn the right and timely responses as we grow older and learn to avoid with choices as we become more knowledgeable about hidden ingredients. In my restaurant we take even a Decaf order very seriously and make sure that the French press is washed thoroughly between orders. I have started using recipes with no peanuts with the exception of one Baby Eggplant dish which the menu clearly states.

Not being from the medical profession all I can say is that our life style and culture have led us to the usage of way too many additives in the food- starting from preservatives for those easy reheatable dinners to artificial coloring, flavoring and texture control products like sgl4. The list is endless with the fertilizers and now genetic engineering. Another thing that Refrigerated transport has brought in is the NON seaasonal products being available everywhere right round the year. Back in India we learnt to live with nature and eat the very things that can grow in th local environs. It is kind of if anything grows in your local area it has done so by breathing in the very air and consuming the same water that you do, so it will be good for your health and body.

I also read recently that having a pet in the house helps infants a lot in becoming resilient to a host of allergies since the pets bring in a light dose of allergens from outside and the child's immune system starts becoming used to those particular irritants.

Just my .03 cents.

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I've seen two kids have extreme allergic reactions from incidental contact so I don't have any problem understanding the seriousness of allergies. What I don't get is how, why and when it became so widespread. I grew up in a densely populated area with people who had absolutely no problem making big deals out of things (warranted or not). There were no restrictions and no reactions. Now it seems to be everywhere. As a wannabe scientist it intrigues me to no end.

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While plenty of people abuse the concept of an allergy, saying "I'm allergic to onions" rather than "I don't like onions," to make a blanket statement that allergies are BS is mind-boggling. If you ever see a person experience anaphylaxis due to a food allergy...well, that will change your mind. A peanut allergy doesn't make a kid, say, sneeze. It's life-threatening. What kind of jollies can a parent get over saying "my kid's allergic"?? I can't imagine that's fun telling your kid that he or she can't eat what the other kids are enjoying.

My mother, a very stoic woman who never takes a sick day, has a severe allergy to certain cruciferous vegetables. An odd, uncommon allergy, I expect. The woman cannot have her beloved bloody mary with a big ol' stalk of celery because the stuff makes her throat swell shut (along with other very unpleasant effects). Untreated, she will die. When I was a kid, I witnessed such an episode and it was terrifying.

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If you ever see a person experience anaphylaxis due to a food allergy...well, that will change your mind. A peanut allergy doesn't make a kid, say, sneeze. It's life-threatening.

As a person with food allergies, I have had some direct experience here--several emergency room visits with anaphalactic reactions included. There are degrees of severity in food allergies in both adults and children, and they often change over time, usually becoming less severe when they do change. I went through a period when I was a kid when I was allergic to peanuts, but all that happened was that I sneezed. One time I got hives all over my body and was sent home from school, but it was unclear what the cause was. The peanut allergy lasted for a fairly brief time. They are no longer a problem. On and off, pistachios make my throat itch, but we are cool at the moment. As an adult, strawberries once occasioned an ER visit, but I no longer have a problem with them. Walnuts caused a major anaphalactic reaction when I was in my early twenties, and I still avoid them--but people have an unfortunate tendency to include them in unlikely dishes. I always ask about cookies, brownies, muffins and sweet breads, but I have had unexpected encounters with walnuts in cranberry sauce and salad. Fortunately, I seem to be no longer severely allergic to them, or haven't eaten enough to cause a problem other than itchiness "around the edges"... Same with apples and apple products like sauce and cider. For a couple of years, I couldn't eat pears. Mercifully, that one disappeared or I wouldn't have any good Fall fruit options.

I am so grateful that my kid didn't inherit my familial allergic trait. It's a pain in the butt.

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While plenty of people abuse the concept of an allergy, saying "I'm allergic to onions" rather than "I don't like onions," to make a blanket statement that allergies are BS is mind-boggling.
Unfortunately, I think abuse of the word allergy (e.g. "I'm allergic to onions" when really you don't like them) is a cause of the belief that food allergies is BS. It's too bad that people resort to this kind of crap (I'm allergic) instead of just stating what they like and don't like. Equally, I think it's too bad that people get harangued into eating things they say they don't like by (surely well-meaning) people who won't listen!
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To those of you with food allergies...can they crop up unexpectedly?

We had a scary and baffling experience last night...we had fish tacos for dinner, and during the meal our 4-year-old broke out in an itchy rash all over his face and legs. He's eaten fish his whole life, at least once a week, but not usually tilapia. We gave him benadryl and called the doctor, and she advised that since he was not having trouble breathing we could skip the ER.

He also ate some cherry tomatoes, but again, he's eaten those his whole life with no problems. Unfortunately the other way to know for sure is to feed him whatever it is we think caused the problem and watch.

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Allergies can develop and change throughout life. While it's possible that Ian reacted to the fish, it's also possible that he reacted to the tomatoes or the detergent you used on his clothes or some other thing he encountered during the day. You may never figure it out so just keep an eye on him. Often, hives are idiopathic (click here for more info). Can you tell I have been through this before? :P

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To those of you with food allergies...can they crop up unexpectedly?

Story time:

One day ten years ago I had lunch at a Thai restaurant, then came home and stacked some firewood. An hour later, I got itchy in my ears and throat, developed hives, and managed to down a Benadryl before my throat closed entirely (Mr P was driving me to the hospital when my throat was closing).

What caused it? I figured either an allergy to something in Thai food (dried shrimp, peanuts) or, more likely because of the time that had passed, a spider bite while stacking the wood.

But over the next few years I sometimes had an allergic reaction to Thai food. I didn't pinpoint the cause until the day I got a carryout lunch of roast beef, mashed potatoes, and green beans from Sutton Place Gourmet, and had another allergic reaction. WTF...?

So the next day I went to the grocery store, bought some fresh green beans, and cooked them in plain salted water, and ate them plain, with a Benadryl handy just in case. Bingo. I'm allergic to green beans. Not to any other legume, just green beans.

People (waiters, for example) raise an eyebrow when I tell them this. Who ever heard of a green bean allergy? But what other conclusion should I reach?

Yes, allergies can come on very suddenly.

BTW, I called SPG and asked if they would tell me every ingredient that actually went into the dishes I had eaten. The pig fuckers refused to help me and transferred my call to a company lawyer. I told them all I was trying to do was pinpoint a food allergy; all they wanted was to cover their own sorry asses. I hope every one of them experiences a sudden near-anaphylactic reaction sometime in their pathetic lives.

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To those of you with food allergies...can they crop up unexpectedly?

We had a scary and baffling experience last night...we had fish tacos for dinner, and during the meal our 4-year-old broke out in an itchy rash all over his face and legs. He's eaten fish his whole life, at least once a week, but not usually tilapia. We gave him benadryl and called the doctor, and she advised that since he was not having trouble breathing we could skip the ER.

He also ate some cherry tomatoes, but again, he's eaten those his whole life with no problems. Unfortunately the other way to know for sure is to feed him whatever it is we think caused the problem and watch.

It probably was one (or both) of those foods. Allergies don't occur with foods you've never eaten before-- the body develops antibodies to foods or other substances that are familiar. I had always eaten nuts with no problem, but my first anaphylactic reaction occured after eating Waldorf salad. The allergist advised avoiding walnuts, which I did. But my second anaphylactic reaction occured after the next time I ate an apple. Turned out I was allergic to both of them. Or, when I had a major reaction to walnuts, my body simultaneously developed antibodies against the other food I was eating at the same time.

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To those of you with food allergies...can they crop up unexpectedly?

We had a scary and baffling experience last night...we had fish tacos for dinner, and during the meal our 4-year-old broke out in an itchy rash all over his face and legs. He's eaten fish his whole life, at least once a week, but not usually tilapia. We gave him benadryl and called the doctor, and she advised that since he was not having trouble breathing we could skip the ER.

He also ate some cherry tomatoes, but again, he's eaten those his whole life with no problems. Unfortunately the other way to know for sure is to feed him whatever it is we think caused the problem and watch.

YES. Add my experiences of being diagnosed with several allergies only in the past 4 years. (and to most of my favorite foods, no less.) Unfortunately, the body can and will respond differently every time a food is eaten. So it can be very difficult to try to diagnose yourself if one time there is a definite reaction and the next time there is not. I was also told when I was undergoing testing a few years ago, that the allergen can cause a reaction even if it was eaten 24-36 hours previous, making the diagnosis much more tricky. A trip to the allergist for testing is the safest place to start.

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I've noticed a few articles lately about peanut allergies - something nobody talked about when I was a kid, but something every restaurant and school system is worried about nowadays.

I'm a bit surprised by this Wikipedia article, where it states that in the United States, there are only 125 food-allergy deaths (of all types) annually. It mentions that peanut allergies "are the most common cause of food-related death," but that implies a plurality rather than a majority - we're talking one, perhaps two, people per state annually.

My brother, a pediatrician, takes them seriously. When I asked him if he thought the whole issue was overrated, his response was, "It may be overrated but its real and its the #1 food allergy I see sending people to the ER."

One of my best friends says he has a serious peanut allergy that could be fatal if he wasn't careful.

Before you launch into me - I'm not dismissing or minimizing this issue in any way; I'm ignorant about it, and am trying to understand why something so ubiquitous as a peanut isn't killing people left-and-right if it's so lethal. Why aren't there articles in the newspapers every day about people dropping dead from peanuts?

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Perhaps because those who have food allergies take extrodinary measures to avoid those foods. Your first reaction isn't ususally the one that kills you. Like an allergy to bee stings, it can develop over time. Once identified, you can take precautions. I had a friend who is allergic to the additive they use to preserve just about everything. She carried an epi-pen just in case. Not a fun thing to inject yourself with epinephrine, but it beats not being able to breathe.

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Harpers magazine took a swipe at the whole allergy trend recently, worth a read. This jist is that, while these theings are not to be trifled with, a group of activists and vested interests have used a credulous press and the national trend towards irrational fears -- especially where children are involved -- to whip up some low-grade hysteria on the subject.
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Pure speculation, but perhaps the reason behind the attention which peanut and other food allergies have garnered lately is tied to the eating green/local/organic trend: we've started to pay more attention to what's in our food. Consumers are actually reading (or attempting to read) ingredient lists that go on for paragraphs. And we're finding that products we've assumed to be peanut/soy/corn/nut/milk/wheat free are not! Hydrolyzed vegetable protein? Is that corn, soy or wheat?

As it's been pointed out on other threads, we can't become allergic to something we haven't eaten. Maybe children today are more exposed to peanuts than before... through cross contamination and food additives, the proliferation of pb&j?

And just to touch on something from the other thread: yes, food allergies can come on suddenly. Probably through related allergies- i.e. I've always been allergic to birch pollen and have difficulties with cherries (bodies react to the proteins in the same way).

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Yeah man. I am in my 30's and I have recently developed an allergy to shellfish. Well, iodine really. Figured that one out when I had a bad reaction to an injection of contrast dye for a CT scan. Now I have to go waaaaay out of my way not to eat any of that crap. My nurse practioner mother has told me that sometimes if you have an allergy and you have a reaction to something the next reaction can be even worse. I love all things in the shell but it's not worth not being able to breathe.

I am definitely VERY careful and beleive me, it is no fun at all. I really really want crab cakes but I enjoy breathing so much better.

Sometimes I get the feeling that people think this is merely me trying to get attention.

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I'll add to this that sometimes you can get an allergic reaction for a systemic reason -- to a virus, for example -- that is completely unrelated to anything you've ingested or touched. I've had this happen -- the doctor said that they only discover the cause of an allergic reaction about 20% of the time, and the rest of the time it could be anything. This and the tremendous amount of publicity about people who have had real problems with allergies might have led to more people thinking that they or their children ARE allergic to something when they just MIGHT be allergic to it. There's also the fact that more people are more aware of the more extreme reaction possibilities -- for example, my brother had an allergic reaction when he was a kid to...black food dye? Radishes? We never knew what, and other than being nervous about radishes for a while, never delved too deeply. I think that if my mom had been exposed to all the news (dare I say hype?) about allergies and their sometimes but rarely fatal consequences, we might have been more involved in making sure that he never saw a radish again...

In my opinion, the only way to determine whether you or your child is allergic to something is to see an allergist for testing, as squidsdc recommends.

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