Food allergies may cause many more visits to the emergency room than previously believed, according to a new study published in the Journal of Allergy & Clinical Immunology. The research team, led by Sunday Clark, MPH, of the University of Pittsburgh, found that food-allergic reactions caused more than 7 million ER visits from 2001 to 2005-an average of 203,000 visits each year. Anaphylaxis, a potentially life-threatening reaction, accounted for some 90,000 visits annually. This means that every three minutes, a food-allergic reaction sends an American adult or child to the ER, while an emergency room visit for food-related anaphylaxis occurs every six minutes. A 1999 study estimated that food-induced anaphylaxis resulted in some 30,000 ER visits each year-a third of the number reported in the current study.
Dr. Katherine Bloom of Allergy & Asthma Care of Fairfield County points out that "all allergic diseases are on the rise, and this is certainly true of food allergy. Whether this increase in ER visits is due to the overall increase in food allergies, or due to a worsening of the reactions that do occur, will require further study. The most important thing is for people to accurately identify their food allergies and carefully avoid those foods. Seeing an allergist is an essential part of this process."