Carson Tucker, 10, loves baseball, drumming, and tae kwon do. What he doesn't love, he told TFK, is "when I can't eat the same things my friends are eating." That happens often, because Carson has food allergies. He is one of an estimated 15 million Americans who must be careful about the foods they eat.
Carson must stay away from eggs, shellfish, soy, and tree nuts. Even a small amount of these could cause him to have a life-threatening reaction called anaphylaxis (an-uh-fih-lak-sis).
Food allergies are affecting more and more people. Doctors are studying possible causes and searching for treatments. The nonprofit group Food Allergy Research & Education (FARE) aims to raise awareness and money for research. Carson takes part in FARE events.
Eight foods—peanuts, tree nuts, milk, eggs, wheat, soy, fish, and shellfish—cause 90% of all food-allergic reactions in the U.S. They cause some kids to itch, feel nauseous, and even gasp for air.
Why? An allergic reaction is a mistake of the body's immune system. The system protects the body from infections. Reactions happen when the immune system identifies a food as something dangerous and releases chemicals. The chemicals cause the symptoms of an allergic reaction.
Dr. Dale Umetsu of Boston Children's Hospital, in Massachusetts, is among the top doctors studying food allergies. He believes that what we eat and what types of infections we are exposed to may affect our immune system. "Fewer exposures result in an immune system that is less able to fight infections but more likely to inappropriately attack harmless substances, such as food," he told TFK. Umetsu and others are looking for ways to keep food-allergic reactions from happening.
For now, kids with allergies need to avoid problem foods. They must also be prepared to deal with reactions. About 20 states have passed laws allowing schools to keep lifesaving allergy medication on hand.
Carson always has his medication with him. He brings his own cupcakes to parties and is careful in the cafeteria. "Food allergies are dangerous," he says. "But my friends take my allergies seriously and help keep me safe."
Kenton Duty, 18, costarred in Disney's Shake It Up. He is severely allergic to chocolate and wheat. "Stand by your friends with allergies," he says. He is working with FARE to spread this message. Here are some tips.
PAUL ARCHULETA—GETTY IMAGES
IF YOU HAVE FOOD ALLERGIES
Don't be embarrassed—be aware of your environment and ask for help when needed.
Always have your medication handy and know how to use it.
If you are teased or bullied, report it to an adult.
IF YOUR FRIENDS HAVE FOOD ALLERGIES
Help them by washing your hands after eating.
Read food labels for ingredients they should avoid.
Don't tease anyone and don't ask anyone to eat something he or she shouldn't.
If someone shows signs of a reaction, get help from an adult immediately or call 911.