A growing number of families are grappling with the everyday problem of food allergies. Even simple activities like birthday parties or planning family dinners must be planned to avoid foods that could cause dangerous or even life-threatening allergic reactions. Even playing with other kids can be dangerous, since there’s no way to know whether other children have recently eaten peanut butter sandwiches or other allergens.

From 1997, food allergies jumped more than 15 percent in babies, kids, and teens, according to the National Center for Health Statistics. Dr. Peter LoGalbo, a New York allergist, says “There is a real increase in the last 10 or 20 years,” adding “Nobody really knows why.”

Although allergic reactions are possible with almost any food, the top food allergens are peanuts, tree nuts, milk, eggs, soy, wheat, fish, and shellfish. Dr. Laura Metzger with the Salem Clinic recently spoke withStatesman Journalabout families and food allergies. She says that if you are concerned your child has a food allergy, ask your child’s pediatrician about allergy testing. “We usually place a tiny amount of a purified commercial allergen extract on a special device and scratch the surface of the skin, then wait 20 minutes,” she said.

While food allergy rates among kids do seem to be rising, parents should not assume their child will get one, says pediatric allergist Dr. Subhadra Siegel, who estimates that 3 to 8 percent of children have a food allergy. “There is so much awareness of food allergy that (with) any kind of symptom, parents try to link it to something the child ate that day,” she said. According to Dr. Metzger, “50 to 90 percent of presumed food allergies are not actually food allergies.” Parents should always talk to their child’s doctor before drawing conclusions or limiting their child’s foods.

Many kids with food allergies will ‘outgrow them.’ Until then, parents of children with food allergies should keep epinephrine auto-injectors (or the EpiPen) on hand and learn the symptoms of allergic reactions.

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