Poll Results: Understanding Allergies

September 18, 2009

Food allergies affect an estimated 12 million Americans, according to the Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network.

Food allergies affect an estimated 12 million Americans, according to the Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network. Raising public awareness is imperative to the advancement of research on behalf of those that suffer. We conducted a quick poll to find out what kind of understanding our readers have of food allergies. Here’s what we found: 

We first asked our readers “When you hear food allergy what do you think?” and asked participants to check all that apply. The number one answer was “itching and hives” (88%) and the number two answer was “breathing and sinus problems” (76%). These are both among the most common food allergy symptoms. The number three answer was “Epi-pen” (69%) or an epinephrine autoinjector, which is a medical device used to deliver a measured dose of epinephrine when a food allergy occurs to avoid or treat the onset of anaphylactic shock. “Death” received 56% of the votes, and “hospitalization” received 46% of the votes indicating that our readers do understand how dangerous food allergies can be for some individuals. 

In the second part of our quick poll, we found that 86% think of food allergies as “an immune reaction”, which is true. Seventy-five percent believe food allergies are “on the rise.” According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, an estimated 3 million children under 18 had a food allergy in 2007, an 18 percent increase since 1997. We also found that 51% believe food allergies are “equally as common in children and adults”. However, children have three times the prevalence of food allergies compared with adults. Thirty-three percent said food allergies are “more common in children than adults.” 

In this second part, more data leads us to believe that the majority of our readers are educated on food allergies as only 15% believe food allergies are “the same as food intolerance”. To clarify, here’s the difference:

•    Food allergy is a rather fast response (minutes) by the body’s immune system to a perceived invader. Signs or symptoms are typically immediate, dramatic and visible: coughing, sneezing, vomiting, migraines, watering eyes, rashes, swelling tissue, hives – or in severe cases an anaphylactic shock which requires emergency intervention. However other symptoms like the gastro-intestinal responses nausea, vomiting and diarrhea can be delayed for hours or even days.

•    Food intolerance on the other hand is rather slow onset reaction, hours, days or even weeks. It is an inability to process a particular food. It is also thought to be an immune system response. The gastro-intestinal tract in some people is simply unable to produce appropriate enzymes for normal chemical breakdown. The food passes through unprocessed, or lingers in the gut fermenting producing excess ‘gas’. In some cases protein fragments rupture the lining of the intestine allowing foreign particles into the bloodstream.

Only seven percent of our readers feel that food allergies are “the result of overly protective and obsessive parenting”, five percent feel food allergies are “trendy”, and only one percent feel they are “not that serious.”

Our readers seem to understand the seriousness of food allergies with 88% saying that food allergies “can be fatal”. In some people, a food allergy can trigger a severe allergic reaction called anaphylaxis. This can cause life-threatening symptoms. 

It is important for restaurants, retailers, and anyone serving food to be sensitive to those with food allergies. Seventy-four percent of our readers feel that food allergies “cause anxiety for sufferers when eating out.”  And when asked “Do most packaged foods clearly list allergens?”, 58% of readers answered “no”.

Although an individual could be allergic to any food, such as fruits, vegetables, and meats, there are eight foods that account for 90% of all food-allergic reactions. These are: milk, egg, peanut, tree nut (walnut, cashew, etc.), fish, shellfish, soy, and wheat. Ninety-four percent of our readers chose peanuts as the most common food allergen followed by milk (74%), wheat (73%), shellfish (70%), eggs (70%), tree nuts (62%), soy (41%), and fish (31%). 

Lastly, only 15% of our readers with food allergies carry an ID card of some sort. We are pleased to offer a FREE Food Allergy Buddy Card to our readers by clicking here