MINNEAPOLIS - In the wake of a Dassel-Cokato student's severe allergic reaction, KARE 11's Lou Raguse spoke with Hennepin County Medical Center Allergist Dr. John Sweet about what parents need to know about food allergies and what to do to treat them.
Q: Just how dangerous can a peanut allergy be?
A: A peanut allergy can be quite severe and start within three minutes of eating contaminated food, or it can start 5-10 minutes or even two hours after eating. It can be life-threatening. There can be swelling of the lips and tongue, swelling of the throat, if there's any history of asthma it can provoke a severe asthma attack, nausea, vomiting, even a loss in blood pressure.
Q: Can it be transferred by touch or does it have to be ingested?
A: That would be a very miniscule amount. The threshold dose that can cause an allergic reaction is different among each person. For some people it's a half-a-peanut, for others it can take three, six or nine peanuts before they have an allergic reaction.
Q: What happens to the body once it starts to have a reaction?
A: With a food allergy, the immune system has learned to identify the protein within the food as dangerous. As a result, it sends off a cascade of reactions. Swelling, excessive secretions, vomiting, bronchal spasms and a loss in blood pressure.
Q: Do some people become immune to EpiPen?
A: You want to make sure you have the right dose, (0.15kg) for those 55 pounds and under. (0.3kg) for those over 55 pounds. There is no immunity. It's supposed to work and the faster you administer it the more effective it will be. The severity of the reaction is also predicted by past reactions. If you have a history of very strong reactions -- it predicts in the future it will be equally severe.
Q: What should parents know even if their child doesn't have a food allergy?
A: Always ask. That's where the accidents can occur. The most likely to suffer Anaphylaxis are ages 15-22. That's really the age parents aren't as closely monitoring their children and what they eat.
Q: What would be the first symptom someone would notice?
A: You would notice symptoms in the lips or tongue, maybe an itching or burning sensation. Some might notice a breakout in hives or a rash an face or neck, other might feel like they have something stuck in their throat. Other's might have a repetitive cough or wheeze and others might develop an immediate headache. Approximately one percent of the population has a peanut allergy. Food allergies in general, depending on what study you look at, can be as high as 6 to 8 percent of the population.
Q: Are there more people with food allergies today?
A: Yes. Allergies are increasing across the board. Between 1999 and 2009, there was an almost 40 percent increase in food allergies. That may be caused by inappropriate advice. We thought avoiding peanut may be helpful but that's been turned on its head. The earlier peanut is introduced into the diet, particularly in high-risk infants with egg allergies, they're less likely to develop a peanut allergy by age 5.
Dr. Sweet says in any food allergy case, administer an EpiPen shot, if available, then call 911. If you'd like more information, click here.