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Many Americans misunderstand food allergies, finds survey

By Caroline Scott-Thomas, 27-Jul-2009

The American public’s understanding of food allergies is poor, with many confusing allergy and intolerance, believing that there is a cure, or misunderstanding current treatments, according to a new survey.

The survey results are published in this month’s Annals of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology, the journal of the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (ACAAI). The web-based survey questioned 2,148 US adults and found that although 95 percent of respondents understood that food allergy is a potentially fatal condition, due to the risk of anaphylaxis, there were significant misconceptions in several other areas.

Almost half falsely believed there is a cure for food allergy, for example, while more than two-thirds said taking a daily medicine could prevent allergic reactions.

More than 40 percent said there were means of avoiding having an allergic reaction other than avoidance of the allergen.

“Although food allergy is a commonplace term, this study confirms the prevailing misconceptions among the public regarding manifestations, diagnosis, and treatment,” said Sami Bahna, professor of pediatrics and medicine at Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center and president-elect of ACAAI. “Appropriate diagnosis is the cornerstone for appropriate management. Also, exclusion of food allergy would direct the search to other causes of the patient’s illness. At present the treatment is basically strict avoidance of the causative foods. Research is underway for effective and safe immunotherapy.”

The study’s lead author Ruchi Gupta said that better understanding of food allergy is needed considering that 76 percent of food-allergy related deaths happen outside of the home and an estimated six to eight percent of children in the US suffer from a food allergy.

The authors concluded: “Increased food allergy knowledge among the general public is needed, especially regarding the distinction between food allergy and food intolerance, current treatments available for food allergy, the absence of a cure, and the lack of preventative medications.”

According to the ACAAI, the most common allergies among children are cow’s milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, soybeans and wheat.

The most common allergies among adults are peanuts, tree nuts, fish, crustaceans, mollusks, fruits and vegetables.

Source: Annals of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology

2009; Vol. 103, pp. 43-50

Food allergy knowledge, attitudes, and beliefs in the United States

Authors: Gupta RS et al.