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The CDC estimates that around 4-6% of children in the US suffer from food allergies. Severe food allergies can lead to anaphylaxis - a reaction that causes swelling and breathing difficulties. Although a serious condition, a new study suggests that a person is more likely to be murdered than die from a food allergy.
Food allergies are increasingly becoming a safety and public health concern worldwide. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) notes that prevalence of food allergies increased 18% between 1997 and 2007.
Reactions to common foods - such as milk, eggs, shellfish, peanuts and tree nuts - has become the most common cause of anaphylaxis.
But a new study from researchers at Imperial College London in the UK suggests that allergy sufferers, their family and carers may be over-worrying about the risk of death from the condition.
To reach their conclusions, details of which are published in the journal Clinical and Experimental Allergy, the investigators analyzed data from 13 global studies conducted between 1946 and 2012.
The studies detailed the number of fatal food anaphylaxis cases within a defined population and time period, as well as the prevalence rate of food allergies.
From this, the researchers found a total of 240 fatal food anaphylaxis episodes over approximately 165 million food-allergic person-years.
The investigators calculated that for any person with a food allergy, the chance of dying from anaphylaxis over a 1-year period is 1.81 in a million.
For young people with food allergies aged up to 19, the researchers calculated that their chance of dying from anaphylaxis was 3.25 in a million.
The investigators then compared these risks with the risk of being murdered or dying from accidental causes within a European population.
They found that in Europe, the risk of being murdered is 11 in a million, while the risk of dying from accidental causes is 324 in a million - both significantly higher than the risk of dying from anaphylaxis.
Commenting on the findings, Dr. Robert Boyle of the Department of Medicine at Imperial College London says:
"We don't want to belittle the concerns of people with food allergies or their families, and of course people should continue to take reasonable precautions.
That said, we want to reassure them that having a food allergy makes a very small difference to someone's overall risk of death."
Dr. Boyle adds that people hear many stories regarding someone who has died suddenly from a severe allergic reaction.
But he says that these events are very rare, and that it is helpful to put the risk into perspective, particularly as worrying about severe allergic reactions can impact a person's quality of life.
"We should address anxiety and quality of life for food-allergic people and their carers, rather than just focus on the risk of death," he adds.
Earlier this year, Medical News Today revealed figures from the CDC showing that both skin and food allergies in US children are on the rise.
Written by Honor Whiteman
Copyright: Medical News Today
Not to be reproduced without the permission of Medical News Today.
Incidence of fatal food anaphylaxis in people with food allergy: a systematic review and meta-analysis, DOI: 10.1111/cea.12211, T. Umasunthar, J. Leonardi-Bee, M. Hodes, P. J. Turner, C. Gore, P. Habibi, J. O. Warner, R. J. Boyle1, published in Clinical and Experimental Allergy, 22 November 2013. Open access
Dying from a food allergy is less likely than being murdered, news release from Imperial College London, accessed 27 November 2013.
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