Multiple factors contribute to the rise in food allergies - 21 News Now, More Local News for Youngstown, Ohio -

Multiple factors contribute to the rise in food allergies

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WARREN, Ohio - Not all that long ago, it seemed we rarely heard of food allergies, except maybe the occasional case of a milk or shellfish allergy.  Now, much more attention is being paid to the issue, especially when allergic reactions result in death. 

Food allergies have increased by 50% in the last 20 years.  While many cases are mild, severe cases can lead to anaphylactic shock, even death.

Five-year-old Jaden Stella of Warren doesn't go too far from home without his allergy band.  His mom, Elena DeMattio, bought it for him.  Unfortunately, they recently had to add to it.

"There were a lot of guardian angels at the soccer field that day," said Elena DeMattio of Warren.

About a month ago, at the Howland soccer fields, Jaden complained of a store throat.  After giving him some medicine, Elena didn't think much more of it.  He has long suffered from asthma and environmental allergies.

"When it first started, it was kind of like an asthma episode, but then the saliva really started to increase," said DeMattio.

Jaden was suffering from an allergic reaction to a cashew, which Elena gave him as a snack.  Paramedics rushed him to the emergency room, eventually flying him to Akron Children's Hospital, where Dr. Nancy Wasserbauer has since treated him.

"Sometimes you will be questioning if there is an allergic response especially in a child that has asthma or other allergies," said Dr. Nancy Wasserbauer with Akron Children's Hospital.

As many as 8% of all children and another 1% to 2% of all adults have food allergies.  There are many theories as to why we're seeing an increase.  Although, researchers have yet to pinpoint an exact cause.

"A lot of theories have to do with our lifestyle, environmental factors, our diet, changes with air pollution, medications we take," said Dr. Wasserbauer.

Peanuts and tree nuts, like the cashew Jaden ate, are the foods most frequently associated with episodes of anaphylaxis, a reaction that kills nearly 100 people a year.  Symptoms of anaphylaxis often can be reversed with an epinephrine auto-injector, or EPI pen, something, Elena carried that day at the soccer field, but had no idea she should've used.

"I live with it every single day knowing that I am the one that gave him that cashew and you do everything as a parent to try to keep them healthy and out of harms way and I gave him something that he was allergic to," said DeMattio.

Dr. Wasserbauer recommends using an EPI pen anytime you see a multi-system response, which could include any combination of the following symptoms: sore throat, swollen tongue, swollen lips, facial hives, a drop in blood pressure, coughing, wheezing, tightness of the chest, vomiting and diarrhea.

There are specific tests allergist can perform to determine if a child has a food allergy.  Allergies to peanuts, tree nuts, milk and shellfish are the most common.  Although, according experts at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases more than 170 foods are known to cause reactions. 

According to the American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology tree nut allergy differs from a peanut allergy.  Tree nuts, like the name suggests, grow on a tree.  Common tree nuts include cashews, walnuts, almonds, hazelnuts, pistachios and Brazil nuts.  A peanut is a legume.  Other well-known legumes include lentils and peas.  Studies show there is an increased risk for having an allergy to both peanuts and at least one or more types of tree nuts.

According to the ACAAI, tree nut allergy are considered to be lifelong, with fewer than 10% of people outgrowing the allergy.  Twenty percent of people outgrow a peanut allergy.

In October, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued voluntary guidelines for managing food allergies in schools, suggesting school districts refrain from serving foods known to cause allergic reactions and encouraging them to keep allergy medicine, like EPI pens, on hand at all times.

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