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Food Allergy Awareness Week: May 8 to May 14

Food Allergy Awareness Week is observed from May 8 to May 14. This annual observance was initiated in 1997 by the Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network (FAAN), an organization that advocates on behalf of patients and families. The goal for the week is to educate the public on this potentially life-threatening condition.

A food allergy occurs when the immune system reacts to eating a particular food. The symptoms of a food allergy range from hives to digestive problems to potentially life-threatening swelling of airways and a drop in blood pressure. The medical term for this condition is anaphylaxis.

Milk, egg, peanut, tree nuts, soy, wheat, fish, and shellfish are the most common foods that cause allergic reactions in the American population. According to the Mayo Clinic, 6 to 8 percent of children under 5, and 3 to 4 percent of adults live with food allergies.

People with food allergies must be hyper-vigilant when choosing the food they eat.  Even small amounts of an allergen can cause a reaction. Although the FDA requires manufacturers to list the top 8 most common allergens on packaging, even when in very small quantities, they are not required to label potential cross-contamination. This means that people with severe food allergies must always be ready to deal with a reaction.

Unfortunately, there is no established and widely available preventative treatment for food allergies. The main treatment is administered only in the event of an allergic reaction. This is normally in the form of an injection of epinephrine.

In the event that epinephrine is unavailable during a reaction or if the victim loses consciousness, it is important for the sufferer to be wearing medical alert jewelry. Throat swelling caused by the reaction could cause loss of speech in the victim. In this case, a medical ID necklace or bracelet will help responders identify the cause of the symptoms more quickly. In a severe reaction, getting medication faster could mean the difference between life and death. In a severe reaction, getting medication faster could mean the difference between life and death.

The FAAN website offers many suggestions on how to get involved in Food Allergy Awareness Week. Among their suggestions is to have teachers help children create awareness posters, to participate in an awareness walk, and to educate with reading. Although, the issue of fighting food allergies is important throughout the year, this is a time to make a special effort to spread awareness about the condition and to support finding new treatments.

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