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shellfish allergy

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Airborne Food Allergens—What’s the Risk?

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When we hear stories of serious allergic reactions to food, they often involve someone unknowingly ingesting a food that contains their allergen. Gut-wrenching stories like the grilled cheese that killed a NYC preschooler, the Indian takeout food fatality in England, the woman left paralyzed after ingesting peanuts while traveling in Budapest, and the sesame-related death of a teenage girl after eating a Prèt A Manger baguette at an airport. 

For many of us, these stories hit a bit too close to home.

In these cases, the food was ingested—but what happens when the allergen goes airborne?  

In January, a story about an 11-year-old New Jersey boy rocked headlines after he died from what authorities believe was an allergic reaction from breathing in the steam from fish cooking in the kitchen. 

While rare, allergic reactions to aerosolized allergens do occur. 

According to Dr. John Lee, Clinical Director of the Boston Children’s Food Allergy Program, most airborne reactions probably occur due to particles of protein that rise into the air when food is actively cooked, and then they’re inhaled. “I’ve had patients describe their throat itching while around peanuts, or reported mild reactions on airplanes, but most airborne reactions typically result from particles of protein rising off heated foods.” For example, he offers someone with a shellfish allergy walking into a seafood restaurant, or a wheat-allergic patient standing near boiling pasta.

According to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, exposure to airborne food allergens does not typically result in anaphylaxis; however, these airborne particulates can cause symptoms such as itchy eyes, a runny nose, a cough, congestion, and difficulty breathing.

Airborne food particulates can also trigger two forms of occupational asthma: 1) baker’s asthma, following exposure to powdered allergen substances such as dried egg powder, soy flour, or wheat flour during baking; and 2) crab asthma, which is caused by dust and fume exposure from steaming, cooking, or scrubbing crab in processing plants. Both forms of asthma are considered allergic diseases because of the role allergenic proteins play in the respiratory response.

Notably, airborne allergic reactions aren’t limited to food. In at least one case, a chemical fragrance was the culprit. After a teenager named Brandon started developing headaches and hives at school, he connected his symptoms to Axe Body Spray. His allergy to the spray worsened, eventually leading to anaphylactic shock. Laws protecting manufacturers like Axe barred disclosure of the spray’s full ingredients list, preventing his family from discovering the allergenic trigger. Brandon had to leave school because of the exposure risks. 

Suffice it to say, airborne allergenic reactions extend beyond food. 

Most reported airborne reactions, however, continue to stem from common allergenic foods. Since peanut is the number one trigger of food-related anaphylaxis, the extent to which peanut particulates pose a risk is a common question in the food allergy community. 

In a 2003 study of 30 children with severe peanut allergies, researchers examined the extent to which inhalation and skin exposure elicited a reaction. For the skin test, one third of children experienced reddening or skin flares after peanut butter was pressed to their skin for one minute. Conversely, no child experienced respiratory symptoms after sitting in close proximity to three ounces of peanut butter for ten minutes.

The topic of aerosolized allergenic reactions has stirred enough controversy among food-allergic travelers that Southwest Airlines stopped serving peanuts on all flights starting in August 2018, and JetBlue does not serve peanuts on its aircrafts.

Food for thought? We think so. Have you experienced an airborne allergen causing an allergic reaction? Please share your experience if so! 

- Meg and the Allergy Amulet Team 

This piece was written by the Allergy Amulet team and reviewed by Allergy Amulet advisors Dr. John Lee and Dr. Jordan Scott. 

Dr. John Lee is the Clinical Director of the Food Allergy Program at Boston Children’s Hospital. Dr. Lee is widely recognized for his work in food allergy, and his commitment to patient health. 

Dr. Scott is an allergist/immunologist and operates several private allergy clinics throughout the Boston area. He is on the board of overseers at Boston Children’s Hospital, and the past President of the Massachusetts Allergy and Asthma Society. 

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More Adults Have Food Allergies Than Previously Believed

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Last month, we shared the latest research on food allergy trends among children. The study found that approximately 7.6%—or 6 million—kids in the U.S. have a food allergy. Now we have more breaking food allergy news to share—this time concerning adults.

In early January, The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) published a study on the prevalence of food allergies among U.S. adults. What did they discover? Approximately 1 in 10 American adults (~26 million) have a food allergy. 

This brings the total number of Americans with a food allergy to approximately 32 million, more than doubling the food allergy population! Previous estimates had the population at roughly 15 million Americans.

Below are a few more key findings:

  • Adult onset of food allergies is becoming more common; nearly half of food-allergic adults have at least one food allergy that began in adulthood.

  • The most common allergies among adults are shellfish (7.2 million), milk (4.7 million), peanuts (4.5 million), tree nuts (3 million), and fin fish (2.2 million).

  • Food allergies occur more often in non-white adults than in white adults.

  • Nearly 40% of adults with a food allergy reported at least one food allergy-related ER visit in their lifetime.

  • Adults ages 30-39 had higher rates of food allergy than younger adults. Adults over 60 had lower rates than other adult age groups.

Dr. Ruchi Gupta and her team at Northwestern University conducted both the adult and pediatric studies. Consistent with their research on children, Dr. Gupta’s team applied a stringent symptom methodology, which looked at the frequency, type, and severity of allergy symptoms as part of diagnosis to filter out those who more likely had a food intolerance. 

One thing is clear: food allergies are on the rise, and we need greater education, awareness, and research on this troubling health trend. 

A big thanks to Dr. Gupta and her team for their ongoing efforts to shine a light on the rising food allergy epidemic in our country.

- Susannah and the Allergy Amulet Team

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FOMO: Fear of Missing Out… On Nutrients

Part I: Milk, Eggs, Fish, and Shellfish

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FOMO, or the fear of missing out, is a source of anxiety for many. For some, it means missing out on social engagements with friends. For others (likely many of our Allergy Amulet followers), it means missing out on certain foods. If you’re in the latter category, this post is for you.

There are many reasons people avoid certain foods: elimination diets, food allergies, or food intolerances, to name a few. In these cases, you’re not only removing the food from your diet, you’re also removing important nutrients (especially if we are talking about growing children!). As a pediatric dietitian, my job is to identify the foods that need to be eliminated, and then figure out how to ensure those lost nutrients remain in my client's diet.

This two-part series will focus on the nutrient implications of eliminating one or more of the top eight most common food allergens from your diet. Whether because of a food allergy or intolerance, or for diet or religious reasons, we’ve got you covered. This first part will focus on milk, eggs, fish, and shellfish. Next month, we’ll cover wheat, soy, peanuts, and tree nuts. Let’s get started.

Personally, I find it helpful to first look at each food and its corresponding nutrients side by side. This approach can make it less intimidating to then find other food sources for those lost nutrients.

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As you can see, some of the foods listed above have overlapping nutrients, vitamins, and minerals. For example, if you are eliminating eggs from your diet, you can find substitutes for protein and vitamin B12 in fish and shellfish.

Where can you find these nutrients and how do they affect your health? Let’s take a closer look.

Protein: Is my child getting enough protein? This question comes up frequently in my practice. First, it’s important to keep in mind that the majority of Americans eat plenty of protein! To see how much daily protein you should be consuming, these Dietary Reference Intake standards provide helpful guidelines. On average, a child should consume approximately .8 - 1.2 gram/kg of protein per day, depending on their age. For example, a 4-year-old child who weighs 35 pounds would need about 16 grams of protein per day. For perspective, a glass of soy milk at breakfast and a turkey sandwich at lunch would be about 24 grams.  

Of course, protein doesn’t just come from animals. There are many plant-based sources that can help you meet your daily protein needs. Most non-dairy milks and yogurts are rich in plant-based protein, for example, as well as beans, legumes, seeds, and nuts.

Has anyone noticed the ever-growing number of milk substitutes hitting grocery aisles? I certainly have! If you’re wondering which one might be best for you, the below table shows common milk substitutes and their approximate nutritional values.

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Calcium: Most parents worry about protein, but I find I’m more focused on calcium intake - especially for those that don’t eat dairy! Calcium is important because it helps maintain the strength of our bones and teeth. It also supports our body structure and helps our muscles, heart, and nervous system function properly. Calcium can be found in vegetables like bok choy, broccoli, Chinese cabbage and collards, beans (black, garbanzo, pinto), and almonds. Several milk substitutes and some orange juices and cereals are also fortified with calcium. Calcium needs range from 700mg - 1300mg/day, depending on a person’s age.

Vitamin D: Vitamin D also plays a role in bone health and the absorption of calcium. Your vitamin D intake depends mostly on sunlight exposure. That said, if you’re not getting much sunlight (read: grey winter weather), it helps to supplement your diet with this important nutrient. You may also routinely have your blood checked to determine whether you’re deficient in this vitamin, as you may need more than the recommended daily dose. If you can’t eat dairy or eggs (a major source of vitamin D), you should look to foods enriched with vitamin D as substitutes.

B Vitamins (B12, B2/Riboflavin, and B5/Pantothenic acid): B vitamins are important multitaskers. They are involved in everything from cognitive function and mood, to energy production and heart health.

B12: The best sources of vitamin B12 are eggs, milk, meat, fish, and poultry. I most often worry about B12 intake in my patients that are vegetarian or vegan. If you fall in either of those camps, plant-based milk substitutes and fortified beverages are great ways to help you meet your daily B12 needs while avoiding animal products.

B2/Riboflavin: Foods high in riboflavin include eggs, dairy, lean meats, green vegetables, and fortified grains (think cereals and breads).

B5/Pantothenic acid: Vitamin B5 (pantothenic acid in scientific terms) plays an important role in turning carbohydrates, fats, and proteins into energy. It removes strain, or stress on the body. Good sources of B5 include mushrooms, cheese, fish, avocados, eggs, lean meats, sunflower seeds, and sweet potatoes.

Expert tip: focus on the foods that you CAN eat. If certain foods are off limits, create a list of the foods you can safely eat, and separate them into different categories (see below).

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Ultimately, the more variety in your diet, the more likely you are to meet your nutritional needs. Plus, it makes eating that much more interesting! Nobody should have FOMO when it comes to food—even if cutting out certain foods is a necessary part of your diet. The solution, in my opinion, is expanding your palate.

 

Tara McCarthy is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist who has a passion for pediatrics. She has worked at Boston Children’s Hospital for over 15 years as well as a private practice, and specializes in nutrition for children with special dietary needs such as food allergies, celiac disease, FPIES, EoE, allergic colitis, and sucrose isomaltose deficiency. 

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