Why Is the Deadly Food Allergy Rate on the Rise?

August 8, 2012 6:24 PM EDT | By Anthony Smith
homemade bread
Bread. (Photo: flickr/ pazavi)

Every time I confess to a friend that I have a gluten sensitivity, ze remarks something along the lines of, "I don't know what I'd do. I'd probably kill myself or something if I couldn't eat bread/pasta/soy sauce/etc." They were the same sorts of reactions I'd heard all my life, when my sister would aggressively tell anyone who was going to serve her food that she couldn't have dairy. The consequences in her situation were much more chaotic than mine; I could get away with mild discomfort.

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We're not alone, we people with food allergies. In fact, our numbers are growing at an alarming rate. And based on the handful of people I know with deadly peanut allergies, or who have severe respiratory and gastrointestinal reactions triggered by corn, we're two of the lucky ones.

In 2012, nearly 10 percent of Americans have food allergies, which means that more people now have to say "No!" to an array of staple foods and "Yes!" to new avenues they never thought of crossing to fill the gap in the diets. According to the Centers for Disease Control, allergic reactions to milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, fish, shellfish, soy, and wheat account for over 90 percent of all food allergies. These immune system responses can cause a spectrum of responses ranging from tingling of the mouth to, in severe cases, death.

We still don't know what causes food allergies, but we know why they're so harmful. For some reason, bodies mistake some component of what we eat-- typically a protein-- as a harmful invader and fights it off by creating antibodies. As anyone with a fever will tell you, creating antibodies isn't necessarily the most fun.

How do you treat a food allergy? Here's the awful part: you need to avoid that food altogether. And since an allergy can come up at any time-- as mine did when all of a sudden, breads started to make me sick-- it may very well mean cutting something that you've always eaten out of your diet.

It may also mean that carrying an epi-pen at all times is a very good idea.

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