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Seafood Allergies: Ranked Highest of All Food Allergies in the United States

The summer season is a seafood lover's delight with outdoor cookouts and restaurants offering an assortment of seafood items on their menus. For the millions of Americans with seafood allergies, it means taking extra precautions to safeguard against allergic reactions. According to The Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Network (FAAN), more than 6.5 million Americans have a seafood allergy -- shellfish allergy is reported by 1-in-50 Americans and a fish allergy by 1-in-250.

"For those who are allergic to seafood, summer cookouts and dining out can have many challenges," said Anne Munoz-Furlong, Founder & CEO of FAAN. "These summer excursions can be enjoyable and not turn into a medical emergency if those who are allergic are knowledgeable of their food allergy and practice strict avoidance strategies."

What is important to know about seafood allergies:
- Seafood allergies can develop at any age. Know the signs and symptoms of a food allergic reaction.

- Seafood, common in the U.S. diet, includes fish (salmon tuna, cod, and catfish for example), and shellfish (shrimp, crab and lobster, and clams).

- For fish allergy, the safest strategy is to avoid all fish.

- There appears to be no cross-reactivity between fish and shellfish, but an individual can be allergic to both.

- Fish- and shellfish-allergic individuals should avoid touching fish or shellfish, going to a fish market, and being in an area where fish or shellfish are being cooked. Fish and shellfish protein can become airborne in the steam released during cooking and can cause an allergic reaction.

- It is not known how long an allergy to fish or shellfish will last. These food allergies should be considered lifelong.

- Fish and shellfish-allergic individuals should carry adrenaline in the form of an EpiPen(R) for use in case of an accidental exposure to the offending seafood. This medication can quickly reverse symptoms of a reaction.

- Administer epinephrine and go immediately to the hospital once symptoms begin, particularly if there is a history of anaphylaxis, a life-threatening allergic reaction.


Steps to avoid seafood allergic reactions:
- Avoid eating in seafood restaurants if you are allergic to fish or shellfish, even if you intend to order a meat or poultry dish. The chance of cross-contact between the food makes these restaurants high-risk places.

- Select a restaurant carefully. Do a little research about the types of food a restaurant offers, especially their summer menu. Check out the restaurant's website. Some restaurants have copies of the menu on location. Call ahead and speak to a manager or chef to find out about their policies for managing food allergies.

- Stick with basic American-type food when dining out.

- Be aware of anchovy, a type of fish, which is commonly found in some types of sauces, salad dressings or marinades.

- When joining friends or family for a cookout, ask if they will be serving seafood. If so, ask that your food be grilled before the fish or shellfish to avoid cross-contact or bring your own food.

A 2004 study "Prevalence of Seafood Allergy in the U.S." revealed that the onset of seafood allergy is likely to begin in adulthood, 60 percent with shellfish allergies and 40 percent with fish, and frequent and severe reactions are reported by sufferers.

Seafood consumption of both finfish and shellfish has increased by 25 percent since 1970. More specifically, the seafood consumption rate has risen from a per capita consumption of 12.5 pounds in 1970 to 15.6 pounds in 2002. (Source: http://www.publicaffairs.noaa.gov/releases2003/sep03/noaa03105.html, accessed December 2003.)


Signs of a Food-Allergic Reaction

Mouth: Itching, tingling, or swelling of lips, tongue, mouth

Skin: Hives, itchy rash, swelling of the face or extremities

Stomach: Nausea, abdominal cramps, vomiting, diarrhea

Throat: Tightening of throat, hoarseness, hacking cough

Lung: Shortness of breath, repetitive coughing, wheezing

Heart: Weak pulse, low blood pressure, fainting, paleness, blueness


Recent Research: The FAAN Seafood Registry
In order to learn more about this national healthcare issue, FAAN has launched a Seafood Allergy Registry. Individuals with a seafood allergy are encouraged to participate. Through the Seafood Allergy Registry, FAAN hopes to learn much more about why many allergic reactions begin in adulthood, why the reactions are so severe as well as how to avoid such severe reactions.

The findings will not only help seafood allergic individuals, but the seafood and food industry, especially in the areas of food labeling and product development.

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