Children cope with severe reactions to foods the rest of us take for granted - East Valley Tribune: Get Out

Children cope with severe reactions to foods the rest of us take for granted

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Posted: Thursday, December 15, 2005 5:58 am | Updated: 8:59 am, Fri Oct 7, 2011.

From the get-go, Hannah Krater didn’t want to have anything to do with peanuts. If she saw them, she steered clear. If she smelled them in food, she’d avoid it. If something with peanuts inadvertently landed in her mouth, she immediately spit it out.

"One time she ate the chocolate from around a peanut M&M and broke out in hives and started wheezing," says mom Denise Krater of Scottsdale. The 6-year-old was found to be allergic to the legumes, and to traditional tree nuts.

According to the Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network, 11 million Americans suffer from food allergies. Peanut allergies, one of the most common, often trigger life-threatening reactions.

While Hannah has never had a severe allergic reaction, the doctor told the Kraters that she could go into anaphylactic shock — wheezing, rash around the lips, hives, swelling of the throat and tongue, breathing problems. Now an EpiPen, a portable treatment for people with allergies, is accessible to her at all times, even at school, to reverse a life-threatening allergic reaction.

"It’s surprising how many treats are brought in for kids (at school) that are peanut-oriented, even after letters go out saying someone in the class has allergies," Krater says.

THE SYMPTOMS

Food allergies are not to be confused with food intolerances, which do not involve the immune system. Lactose intolerance, for example, is the inability to absorb the sugar found in milk due to a lack of the digestive enzyme lactase.

Food allergies can cause nausea, vomiting and cramping, but a respiratory reaction is "the one that gets you in trouble," says Dr. William Morgan, founder of the Arizona Asthma & Allergy Institute. He says that a person will not have a reaction to the first ingestion of the food, but with subsequent exposure — sometimes with graduated severity.

"The more allergic a person is to a particular food, the quicker the onset of symptoms," Morgan says.

Food allergies, which are genetic in origin, develop in response to a particular food’s protein. Food hypersensitivity is greatest in the first few years of life. Most young children outgrow food allergies, except in most cases of peanut, tree nut and seafood allergies.

FAMILY STRATEGIES

Such has been the case with Melissa Burbank, 16, of Mesa. The second of five children — three of whom have food allergies — Melissa has had a heightened reaction to peanuts each time she has come in contact with them. She’s had to use an EpiPen several times over the past year, says her mother, Melodie.

Melissa has become so vigilant that she denied a friend a drink of her soda after he ate a peanut/caramel candy bar. He had a hard time believing she could have a severe reaction after such casual contact, Melodie says, but a Canadian teenager recently died after kissing her boyfriend, who had eaten a peanut butter sandwich hours earlier.

"Food allergies have increased because of our eating habits," Morgan says.

But Morgan says if there is a family history of food allergies, children are less likely to develop food allergies if they’re introduced to foods later. Cow’s milk should not be given to children younger than 1, Morgan says, and foods such as eggs, fish, shellfish and tree nuts shouldn’t be eaten by children until they are at least 4.

Common triggers

These foods account for 90 percent of all food allergies:

• Milk

• Eggs

• Peanuts

• Tree nuts

• Fish

• Shellfish

• Soy

• Wheat

Source: The Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Network

‘Peanut’ risks

• "Artificial" nuts may be peanuts that have been deflavored, then reflavored with pecan or walnut oils. Mandelonas, for example, are peanuts soaked in almond flavoring.

• Avoid chocolate candies, unless there is no risk of cross-contact during manufacturing.

• African, Chinese, Indonesian, Mexican, Thai and Vietnamese dishes often contain peanuts or come in contact with peanuts during preparation. Foods sold in bakeries and ice cream stores often have come in contact with peanuts.

• Many brands of sunflower seeds are produced on equipment shared with peanuts.

Source: The Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Network

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