HATTIESBURG, MS (WDAM) - Food allergies plague many people in the Pine Belt, affecting one in every 13 children nationally.
Allergic reactions occur when the body produces antibodies to proteins in foods, mistaking them as something harmful. Symptoms run the gamut from vomiting and diarrhea to swelling and hives. Anaphylaxis is a deadly and frightening reaction that occurs when the throat closes.
"Food allergy is increasing and it's a big problem," said Dr. Charlene Broome, an allergist at the Asthma & Allergy Clinic of Hattiesburg. "The last statistic I saw showed that food allergy in the United States had increased by 50 percent in the last 20 years, which is amazing. Allergic disease, in general, seems to be increasing as well but we really don't know why."
There is no cure for food allergies, but researchers are experimenting with new treatments.
"The most important thing in diagnosing a food allergy is taking an accurate and detailed history from the family. I'll want to know exactly what happened, what food was eaten, what type of reaction occurred."
Next, a physical exam is performed. After the exam, prick skin testing is done, usually on the back. Occasionally a more detailed blood test is done.
"Very commonly, milk, egg, and soy are outgrown, often by school age and mostly everyone by middle school. Things like peanut, tree nut, and shellfish allergies are usually lifelong."
Some parents are shocked by their child's diagnosis because no one else in their family has any sort of allergy. Others wonder if they could have done something to prevent it.
"Allergy tends to run in families. It's all genetic, and what is inherited is a tendency to develop allergic reactions."
Parents of children with food allergies hope that a cure is on the horizon.