One in 10 people diagnosed with a sudden allergy to certain foods suffer life-threatening shock symptoms, according to a health ministry survey report made available over the weekend.
The finding is based on a survey of patients diagnosed with so-called immediate food allergy, which triggers an allergic reaction in sufferers within an hour of eating a particular food. Nearly 80 percent of the patients are children aged 6 and younger.
While other food allergies can produce a skin rash between 12 and 24 hours of eating, immediate food allergy can cause more serious symptoms, including impaired consciousness and low blood pressure.
Acting on the latest findings, the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry is reconsidering food-item labeling. The ministry’s study group analyzed the cases of 3,840 people nationwide in 2001 and 2002, with data provided by about 2,000 medical experts.
In terms of age, 1,259 immediate food allergy sufferers, or 32.8 percent, were infants, according to the survey, while children aged 6 and younger comprised 77.7 percent of sufferers.
The survey shows that the number of sufferers decreased as they grew older, although 364 people aged 20 and over still suffered symptoms of the allergy.
Eggs are the most likely type of food to bring on immediate food allergy, being responsible for 38.3 percent of cases in the survey, followed by dairy products, at 15.9 percent, and wheat, at 8 percent. Wheat, fruit, fish, shrimp and buckwheat were common agents causing immediate food allergy among sufferers aged 20 and older. Of fruits, kiwi fruit and bananas were the main offenders, while salmon and mackerel took top place in the fish category.
Skin rashes are the most common reaction to the allergy, at 88.7 percent. Other symptoms include asthma and diarrhea.
While there were no reported deaths among the cases covered in the latest survey, shock symptoms, including impaired consciousness, were recorded in 418 cases, or 10.9 percent.
Buckwheat allergy has been responsible for several deaths in Japan. Immediate food allergy has been reported in increasing numbers in other industrialized countries, with some reports showing that more than 100 people die from the problem in the United States each year.
The system for diagnosis and treatment must be improved, according to Takanori Imai, a Showa University pediatrics lecturer. There have been instances in which only doctors with expert knowledge of the issue were able to detect food as the cause of an allergy, he said.
In response to recommendations by the study group, the ministry has since April 2002 required warning labels on processed products containing eggs, dairy products, wheat, buckwheat and peanuts.
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