Food allergies are becoming more common, but despite the public’s increased awareness of this condition, numerous food allergy myths abound. Sometimes these myths are just plain silly, but other times they can paint an inaccurate picture that could have deadly consequences.
Myth #1: Only Peanut allergies can be fatal. Peanut allergies may cause more cases of anaphylaxis than any other food allergy, but severe reactions can occur from any food allergy.
Myth #2: Any adverse reaction to a food is an allergy: The distinction between food allergies and celiac disease, lactose intolerance and similar conditions is understandably confusing. Only food allergies, however, are caused by a reaction involving immunoglobulins, a class of proteins serving the immune system.
Myth #3: Breastfed babies don’t get food allergies. Unfortunately, there is no sure way to prevent food allergies, even by breastfeeding. Recent studies suggest that exclusive breastfeeding for the first four months helps delay or prevent food allergies in young children who are high risk for developing food allergies, but it is by no means a guarantee. Plenty of mothers who breastfed have children with food allergies.
Myth #4: A mild food allergy will never get more severe. Allergic reactions are unpredictable. What could cause a mild case of the hives one time, could cause anaphylaxis the next. This is why carrying an EpiPen, and using it once symptoms develop, is so important.
Myth #5: Only certain foods cause allergies. While it’s true that eight foods (dairy, peanuts, tree nuts, wheat, shellfish, fish, soy and eggs) cause more than 80 percent of all allergic reactions, any food has the potential to cause an allergy.
Myth #6: Children always outgrow their allergies. It’s true that some children with certain allergies, such as dairy, outgrow their allergies by late childhood; however, this isn’t always the case. Peanut and tree nut allergies rarely go away, and children with food allergies may only experience a slight decrease in symptoms, or may have allergies that seem to recur suddenly in adulthood. Scientists have yet to find out why this is.
Myth #7: Peanut allergies are the most common childhood food allergy. Actually, dairy is the most common food allergy among children. Peanut allergies are better known in the U.S. because they are more likely than other allergies to cause anaphylaxis, a deadly reaction.
Myth #8: The dangers of food allergies are overstated. This is sadly a common sentiment, and it can have deadly consequences. Children with food allergies have been labeled as hypochondriacs, and their parents paranoid and overprotective. However, this couldn’t be further from the truth. Food allergies can be life-threatening and very scary, especially for young children.
Myth #9: Delaying exposure to allergens past the 12-month mark will prevent food allergies. This myth was once thought to be true. From 2000-2008, experts recommended avoiding infant exposure to dairy, wheat, tree nuts and peanuts before the ages of one to three. However, there was no adequate evidence to support this recommendation, and the rate of allergies did not fall as a result. Now, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends introducing allergens to babies around the age of six months.
Myth #10: It’s ok to eat small amounts of an allergen once in a while. It doesn’t matter if the allergen is organic, or if it’s “just a bite”—consuming a known allergen, even with an EpiPen handy, is like playing Russian roulette. Even when used properly, EpiPens are not guaranteed to save a life. Strict avoidance is the only sure way to keep a child with food allergies safe. Thanks to the Internet, information on childhood food allergies is more accessible than ever, but all the information out there isn’t necessarily true and misinformation spreads very quickly. If you find some exciting information on your child’s food allergies, consult your doctor to make sure it’s a fact and not just another myth floating around.