Food allergies are rare. Between 1 and 2% of American adults have a food allergy, according to food allergy experts. These can be caused by more than 170 foods. The most common and severe food allergies are caused by milk, eggs, peanuts, walnuts, almonds, cashews, fish, shellfish, wheat and soy.
Most allergy sufferers experience fairly mild reactions to a food allergen. Symptoms can include varying degrees of hives, swelling of the throat, difficulty breathing and vomiting. A small number of food allergy sufferers are susceptible to severe and potentially fatal anaphylactic shock.
The real danger for peanut allergy sufferers appears to be accidental consumption of peanut products, although mild reactions may occur if peanuts come into contact with the skin.
Approximately one-half of one percent of the American population has an allergy to peanuts. Only one-tenth of one percent of the American population is believed to be subject to a life-threatening peanut allergy. For the remainder of the population, peanuts and peanut butter continue to be a popular, nutritious and economical food.
Because there is currently no "cure" to eliminate the peanut allergy, the U.S. peanut industry helps fund university research which has already identified the proteins responsible for the allergic reaction. Researchers are now attempting to eliminate these proteins from peanuts altogether. Human trials also have begun on a peanut allergy vaccine to mitigate the severity of the reaction.
Food allergy sufferers should always carry self-injectable epinephrine in the event that a reaction does occur. Immediate injection of epinephrine can temporarily arrest symptoms until full medical treatment is available. In the event of a reaction, the sufferer should seek medical attention immediately — even if a dosage of epinephrine appears to have halted the attack.
Experts estimate that as many as 5 to 8% of American children may have a food allergy. The most common food allergies among children are milk and egg. Fortunately, children outgrow most food allergies. However, allergies to peanuts, tree nuts, fish and shellfish usually are lifelong.