Life-threatening allergic reactions in children, such as anaphylaxis, have increased 7-fold in the last decade and a third of all allergic shocks in children occur for the first time at school with teachers largely unprepared.
Today the European Academy of Allergy and Clinical Immunology (EAACI) launched its Food Allergy Campaign and the "International Minimum Standards for the Allergic Child at School" document pushes for minimum requirements for the safety of allergic children at school . The purpose of the campaign is to raise awareness of the sharp increase of anaphylaxis in children, an allergic reaction that is severe and potentially life-threatening. It aims at educating the public to recognize the symptoms and its triggers, and to teach methods of how to react in case of emergency, e.g. by using an adrenaline pen.
The most common food allergies in children are egg, cow's milk and nuts.
The say more than 17 million people in Europe suffer from food allergies, with 3.5 million younger than 25 years. The sharpest increase is seen in children and young people, especially in the number of life-threatening allergic reactions in children. The number of hospital admissions for severe allergic reactions in children also increased 7-fold in the last 10 years.
In continental Europe the most common food allergy in children is to egg, cow's milk and tree-nuts, while in adulthood it is to fresh fruit, nuts and vegetables. In the UK, walnuts, hazelnuts and peanuts pose the biggest threat and cause 50% of all life-threatening allergic reactions.
Allergy to shellfish and cod prevails in Scandinavia and Northern Europe. Across Europe, food allergy is the leading cause of anaphylaxis in children aged 0-14.
Food Allergies vs. Food Intolerances
The campaign also aims to teach the differences between food intolerances and food allergies. Food intolerances do not directly involve the immune system and therefore cannot be measured by allergy tests. Lactose intolerance is a non-allergic hypersensitivity and reactions to food additives are mostly non-allergic. In general, the symptoms of non-allergic hypersensitivity are milder and therefore are rarely life-threatening reactions.
The EAACI Food Allergy Campaign is also going to engage with EU authorities to improve food labeling and to facilitate access to anaphylaxis emergency treatment.
Some foods have the label "May contain peanuts" or "May contain milk". This label is not regulated and is used by food manufacturers on their own initiative. But different producers use different criteria for using the "may contain" label. Therefore, the current "may contain" label represents different levels of contamination and hence different levels of risk.
The launch is being supported by an outdoor and online campaign, which will debut at the EAACI Congress 2012 in Geneva as well as online at http://www.stopanaphylaxis.com