Are you allergic to anything? Allergies to various things are quite common today.

Maybe you're allergic to a particular kind of medicine or certain animals, such as cats or dogs. Chances are you may also be or know someone who is allergic to certain foods.

Beyond the inconvenience of not being able to enjoy certain foods, food allergies can cause serious reactions that can be quite dangerous and even deadly if not treated quickly. Unfortunately, there is no cure for food allergies. For those who suffer from them, avoiding certain foods is the only way to prevent dangerous allergic reactions.

Food allergies are becoming more and more common, and scientists do not yet understand why. In fact, peanut allergies in children doubled in the five-year span from 1997 to 2002.

Today, more than 12 million Americans have food allergies, and more than 3 million of those are children under the age of 18. That means about one of every 25 children — or, on average, at least one in every classroom in America — has food allergies.

Although people can be allergic to just about any food, most food allergies are caused by eight foods: peanuts, tree nuts, milk, eggs, fish, shellfish, soy and wheat. When people are allergic to foods, their bodies' immune systems experience an abnormal reaction to the proteins in the foods.

If they eat or otherwise come into contact with the foods, their immune systems think the foods are dangerous and release histamine and other chemicals to fight the perceived danger. This causes an allergic reaction, including symptoms such as shortness of breath, trouble swallowing, coughing, vomiting and even loss of consciousness.

People with food allergies, especially those who also have asthma, are at risk for an extremely serious allergic reaction called "anaphylaxis." Anaphylaxis can occur very quickly and may cause death if not treated promptly.

Each year, anaphylaxis from food allergies leads to more than 50,000 emergency room visits. If people with food allergies experience anaphylaxis, it's critical that they receive medical attention as quickly as possible.

The effects of anaphylaxis can be countered by administering epinephrine (also known as adrenaline). Those with food allergies often carry epinephrine with them in case of emergency in the form of an EpiPen®.

Although there is currently no cure for food allergies, carefully choosing foods and always reading food labels can help those affected by food allergies to avoid dangerous reactions. People who suffer from food allergies have to be very careful at all times, though.

Ingredients can change without warning. Moreover, some allergies can be so severe that reactions can occur from eating foods that were simply manufactured in a facility that also processes peanuts or another food that someone is allergic to.

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