Food Allergies: Hype vs. Reality

April Peveteaux
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peanut allergy
Flickr photo by Dan4th
Recently, it seems the fear of food allergies and the number of kids who suffer has dramatically increased. But a paper published by a UCLA allergist and immunologist says that fear is overblown.

While 30 percent of Americans believe they have a food allergy, a new report says in reality only 5 percent of adults and 8 percent of children suffer from food allergies. The New York Times explains the term "allergy" is regularly misused when someone has a negative reaction after ingesting a specific food.

An allergy is a reaction within the immune system that can have potentially deadly results. A sensitivity or intolerance is just that -- an uncomfortable reaction in the digestive system. While unpleasant, it's not as serious of an issue as a food allergy.

One reason the study cites as to why the perception of food allergies is greater than reality is the lack of willingness, on the doctor's part, to conduct a food challenge resulting in a solid diagnosis. In addition to the test being time consuming, doctors aren't comfortable with giving a patient a food that could have severe consequences.

When my daughter was 2 years old, she ate a walnut cookie and threw up. My husband has lots of food sensitivities, including walnuts, so we asked the doctor if she could be allergic. To be on the safe side, the doc said to keep her away from all tree nuts and related foods. After accidentally giving her hummus, with no reaction, we started giving her other nuts again with no negative results. So a stomach bug, nervous stomach, or who knows what caused us to alert her day care about a nonexistent food allergy. I'm sure we're not the only ones who have mistakenly inconvenienced a child-care facility.

The over-dramatized fear about food allergies in children also has resulted in strict food guidelines for our babies. Now it seems those might be questionable too:

"Authors of the new report -- and experts on the guidelines panel -- say even accepted dogma, like the idea that breast-fed babies have fewer allergies or that babies should not eat certain foods like eggs for the first year of life, have little evidence behind them."

Does this new information make you less anxious about your child's food intake? Or do you feel it's better to be safe than sorry?


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