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A photo of peanuts scattered on a table.

As the most common cause of life-threatening allergic reactions (anaphylaxis), peanut allergies account for 80 percent of fatal or near-fatal allergic reactions each year, according to the Mayo Clinic. If you have any reaction to peanuts, tell your doctor about it.

Take food allergies seriously

By Lou Ann Jopp

From eNews, January 24, 2008

A harmful reaction to a food can be a result of food allergy or food intolerance. Allergies and intolerances are not the same. Food intolerances, such as lactose intolerance, are often due to an enzyme deficiency and cause problems with digestion. Intolerance does not involve the immune system. A true food allergy is the body's negative reaction to a particular food protein. It occurs when the immune system mistakenly believes a food is harmful. Any food has the potential to cause a reaction in a person who is allergic to that food, but only eight foods are responsible for 90 percent of all food allergic reactions. They are: milk, eggs, peanuts, soy, wheat, tree nuts (walnuts, almonds), fish, and shellfish (shrimp, lobster).

The number of Americans with food allergies has increased from approximately 6 million to 12 million in recent years. Although there are many theories, we do not yet fully understand the causes of this increase. Peanut allergy in children has doubled in the last five years!

Food allergy symptoms can include a tingling in the mouth; swelling of lips, tongue, and throat; difficulty breathing; hives; vomiting; abdominal cramps; diarrhea; and loss of consciousness; and even death. It is estimated that 150 to 250 Americans die each year from food allergy reactions.

To prevent a reaction if you have known food allergies, avoid:

Presently, there is no cure for food allergies. The only way to avoid a reaction is to completely avoid the allergy-causing food. For more information about food allergies, see the Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network.

Lou Ann Jopp is a food science educator with University of Minnesota Extension.