One out of every 17 children under 3 years old in America has a food allergy, and some will outgrow their sensitivities, said Anne Munoz-Furlong, founder and CEO of FAAN. But allergies to peanuts, nuts, shellfish and fish tend to be lifelong, she said. As far as she knows, Worry Free Dinners is the first event series of its kind.
Experts agree that allergies in general -- both food and inhalant -- are on the rise, but no one is sure why. Research on food allergies has been slow because "for a long time, people thought this was a small problem," Munoz-Furlong said. The largest group of studies on the subject are in progress, including immunotherapy for people with peanut and milk allergies, she said.
The majority of food allergy cases -- about 80 percent -- are "cyclic," with mild symptoms that resemble those of pollen or dust allergies: sneezing, itchy eyes, and nasal congestion, said Dr. Alpen Patel, assistant professor of otolaryngology at Emory University. Other people experience nausea, vomiting and diarrhea consistently in response to certain foods.
But for some people, ingesting something that even accidentally touched tree nuts or peanuts could result in anaphylaxis, a severe reaction that can lead to blocked airways, cardiovascular collapse, and even death. This is called a "fixed food allergy," he said.
After one severe reaction, he said, most people consistently avoid the offending food and do not experience another severe attack. But they also always carry a shot of epinephrine to self-administer immediately in case they experience signs of anaphylaxis.