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01-03-2012 | Article

Experts call for greater awareness of food allergy health dangers

Abstract

Free abstract

MedWire News: Food allergies are a common cause of the skin condition urticaria, often referred to as hives, as well as a potential cause of more serious reactions, survey results suggest.

Surprisingly, only half of the people surveyed who had suffered a food allergy had sought medical advice - leading the researchers to call for greater public awareness of the health risks associated with food allergies.

Food allergies can affect almost anyone and give rise to a range of symptoms, from mild localized itching to potentially fatal reactions such as anaphylactic shock.

In this study, Dr Michael Makris (University of Athens, Greece) and team developed an anonymous survey to assess perceptions about food allergies among the general population. They posted the questionnaire on a popular Greek health website, where it was completed by 3673 adults who had suffered a food allergy at least once in their lifetime.

Just over half of the survey respondents were female and just over half reported suffering from an "atopic" disease - a family of conditions that includes asthma, hayfever, and eczema.

Respondents typically first developed a food allergy between the age of 11 and 30 years, and fruits were the most frequent trigger. Other common causes of food allergy included shellfish, seafood, nuts, and prepackaged "ready meals."

Interestingly, around one in three of the respondents said their allergy only arose when they were eating uncooked food, and in almost all cases the allergic reaction developed within 3 hours of eating the culprit substance.

Often, the allergy was more likely to happen when other factors were also present - such as during physical activity, while drinking alcohol, or when taking aspirin.

People reported experiencing a wide range of symptoms, from itching of the lips and tongue to stomach cramps, skin rashes, and chest tightness.

One in four people also reported suffering potentially life-threatening reactions, such as angioedema (similar to hives but where the swelling is beneath the skin), and fainting, and one in five said they had needed hospital treatment as a result of their allergy.

Despite the seriousness of the reactions, however, half of respondents said they would not normally seek medical attention, and only a minority had been assessed by an allergy specialist.

Dr Makris and colleagues remark: "Awareness programmes must be carried out in order to increase consciousness about this potentially fatal medical condition."

MedWire (www.medwire-news.md) is an independent clinical news service provided by Springer Healthcare Limited. © Springer Healthcare Ltd; 2012

By Joanna Lyford