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J Investig Allergol Clin Immunol. 2000 Mar-Apr;10(2):59-65.

Lethal or life-threatening allergic reactions to food.

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Department of Dermatology, University Hospital, Zürich, Switzerland.


Fatal or life-threatening anaphylactic reactions to food occur in infants, children and adults. Atopic individuals with bronchial asthma and prior allergic reactions to the same food are at a particularly high risk, whereby even the mere inhalation of the allergenic food can be fatal. Not only peanuts, seafood and milk can induce severe, potentially lethal anaphylaxis, but indeed a wide spectrum of foods, according to the different patterns of food sensitivity in different countries. Foods with "hidden" allergens and meals at restaurants are particularly dangerous for patients with food allergies. Similarly, schools, public places and restaurants are the major places of risk. However, the main factor contributing to a fatal outcome is the fact that the victims did not carry their emergency kit with adrenaline (epinephrine) with them. In cases of death where food anaphylaxis is suspected, it is important for forensic reasons to preserve uneaten portions of the food in order to identify (hidden) allergens. It is also important to determine postmortem specific serum IgE, tryptase and histamine levels to document the anaphylaxis. There is a need to raise awareness of the diagnosis and treatment of anaphylaxis among doctors, those called upon to administer emergency medical care, and the public, and also to provide increased support for those with potentially fatal food allergies through the help of patients' organizations, and national and international medical societies. The food industry should ensure a policy of comprehensive labelling of ingredients so that even the smallest amount of potentially lethal foodstuffs can be clearly identified. Finally, the pharmaceutical industry should be persuaded to reintroduce an adrenaline inhaler onto the market.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]
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