Food Allergies Send 50,000 People to ER Annually

A new study published in the December issue of the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology (JACI)found a higher likelihood of anaphylaxis, or severe and/or life-threatening allergic reactions than previously reported.

In the study, Wyatt W. Decker, MD, Chief of Emergency Medicine at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, reported that the incidence rate of food-allergic reactions increased significantly from 1990 to 2000. Researchers reported about a 10 percent increase in cases of life-threatening allergic reactions over the 10-year period of the study.

Children ages 0 to 19 are at the highest risk for these severe reactions. Based on the new study, it's estimated that food allergies cause 50,000 emergency room visits per year, with overall cases approaching 150,000 annually.

"This study shows anaphylaxis affects significantly more people, many of whom are children, than previously reported," said Anne MuA+-oz-Furlong, Founder and CEO of the Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Network (FAAN).

Increased prevalence of peanut and tree nut allergy

Almost every day I am asked by patients, colleagues and the media why there are so many new cases of food allergies - particularly, nuts and peanuts. The prevalence of peanut allergy in the U.S. has been estimated to affect as many as 6 million people. The incidence of peanut allergy is said to have doubled in American children in the five years between 1998 and 2003.

Since there is no treatment or cure for food allergies, avoidance and education are the most important methods of reducing risk. Another important strategy is to become a "label detective." To better understand food labels, carry a "food allergy identification card" (especially when eating outside of the home), and be prepared to treat severe allergic reactions when they occur.

For more information on food allergy, contact FAAN at (800) 929-4040 or visit In addition, see a board certified allergist for testing, and if you or a family member has food allergies, ask for a food allergy action plan!

Dr. Clifford W. Bassett is an assistant clinical professor of medicine at the Long Island College Hospital and on the faculty of NYU School of Medicine. He is the current vice chair for public education committee of the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology. No information in this blog is intended as medical advice to any reader or intended to diagnose or treat any medical condition.