SOME FACTS AND NUMBERS
(1) The prevalence of food allergies has been estimated to be around 1-3% in adults and 4-6% in children.
(2) The reported prevalence of peanut allergy has approximately doubled in a period of 5 years.
(3) A small group of foods account for approximately 90% of all food allergies. They are: milk, eggs, soy, peanuts, tree nuts, wheat, shellfish and fish.
(4) While in adults allergies are usually kept for life, children sometimes can outgrow their food allergies.
(5) The only way for allergic individuals to manage food allergies is strict avoidance of the food that causes the allergic reaction.
(6) Symptoms of food allergy differ greatly between individuals, ranging from mild discomfort to life-threatening reactions. They include swelling of the lips and tongue, skin irritation and gastrointestinal symptoms (diarrhea, nausea and vomiting). Sneezing and shortness of breath are also widespread. Some individuals may also develop anaphylaxis.
(7) Anaphylaxis is a life threatening allergic reaction. Symptoms usually appear rapidly, and can include the skin (e.g. itching, hives), swelling of the throat and difficulty to breath, gastrointestinal symptoms, and unconsciousness. Immediate medical attention is necessary often includes an injection of epinephrine (adrenaline).
(8) Peanuts and tree nuts are the leading causes of the potentially deadly food allergy reaction called anaphylaxis.
(9) Each year in the U.S., it is estimated that anaphylaxis to food results in 30,000 emergency room visits, 2,000 hospitalizations and 150 deaths.
(10) Food allergies are different from food intolerance. Food allergies are adverse reaction to food generated by the immune system (they are, technically speaking, an IgE mediated disease), while food intolerance is not triggered by the immune system and is generally non life-threatening.
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(1) Celiac disease is neither a classic food allergy (IgE-mediated) nor a food intolerance. It is a genetically-determined and chronic intestinal disease induced by gluten (a protein present in wheat, rye and barley). It damages the small intestine and interferes with nutrient absorption. It is a life-long condition, and can be diagnosed at any age.
(2) Currently, the only treatment for celiac disease is the complete exclusion of gluten from the diet. Even very small amounts of gluten can be harmful.
(3) The overall prevalence of celiac disease has been estimated to be approximately 0.5-1% of the overall population.
(4) Recent studies suggest that celiac disease is not restricted to European populations. It seems to be similarly prevalent in the North American, South American, Asian, Pacific and African countries where it has been investigated.
(5) In some risk groups (such as first-degree relatives, people with type 1 diabetes, Down Syndrome, autism, chronic liver disease or other auto-immune conditions), the prevalence of celiac disease can be much higher than 1%.
(6) Celiac disease can present a wide range of clinical manifestations, from chronic gastrointestinal symptoms (diarrhea, constipation, abdominal pain, bloating), to weight loss, short stature, anemia, dental enamel defects, neurological problems and general weakness. Some patients may have, however, very mild or no symptoms at all.
(7) The diagnosis involves blood tests performed while the person is still eating gluten (IgA antitissue transglutaminase (tTG), IgA antiendomysial antibody immunofluorescence (EMA) and total IgA. IgG tTG are ordered when IgA is deficient) and a biopsy of the small intestine.
(8) Celiac disease is associated with an increased rate of osteoporosis, infertility, autoimmune diseases, and malignant disease, such as lymphomas. However, celiac patients who completely avoid gluten can reverse the damage to their intestines.
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