A key danger in food allergies is anaphylatic shock. This is a swelling of tissue in the throat that can make breathing impossible, and if untreated, can be fatal. Hence the entire controversy about the cost of the Epipen, which is the standard, life-saving treatment for anaphylaxis.
A statistical analysis of health insurance claims suggests that 8% of children have food allergies sufficiently severe to warrant medical treatment. Whether that number has been adjusted for the number of Americans without private insurance isn’t clear. If not, the actual number is probably slightly higher.
- Peanuts account for 26% of insurance claims.
- Other nuts and seeds (18% of claims)
- Shell fish
The rate of food allergies has been increasing over the last two decades. Nut allergies have more than doubled in that time. Possible causes of this increase include
- Increased use of antibiotics
- Increased rate of C-sections, which may impact the composition of gut bacteria in the newborn
- Increasingly sterile environments
One surprise in the data is that food allergies are rising faster in rural areas than in cities.
Another surprise is that for an increasing number of people, the allergies are continuing into adulthood. Historically, children were expected to “out grow” these allergies; now at least 1/3 of claims are among adults.
The analysis is from a medical research firm in New York called Fair Health. A full white paper on these results is due in October. Fair Health has access to 24 billion medical claims for 150 million Americans with private health insurance.
About your medical records
Your medical records are confidential — to a point.
- Your medical claims go into a database (MIB) to which all insurance companies have access. That’s how they check, for example, for people who file claims for pre-existing conditions or make errors on insurance applications. You are fully identified in that database.
- With your name and other personally identifying information removed, your insurance claims are available to others for research purposes.
- Samathi Reddy, “A Striking Rise in Serious Allergy Cases,” The Wall Street Journal, 22 August 2017, p. A9.
- American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology, “Food Allergy.” http://acaai.org/allergies/types/food-allergy
- Food Allergy Research and Education (FARE). https://www.foodallergy.org/symptoms
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “Food Allergies in Schools,” May 2017. https://www.cdc.gov/healthyschools/foodallergies/index.htm