Archive for July, 2006

Food Allergy: from Nuisance to Life-Endangering Anaphylaxis

How many times do I read stories like this and it’s same the world over. It’s always good to see though that the stories are getting picked up. I’m always reminded that anaphylaxis is in the wild west era at the moment much like asthma was in the 80’s. No one knew much about asthma back then. 25 years on and everyone knows about asthma and knows how to deal with it. Anaphylaxis will go the same way, just give it more time.

Until then all of us are the trail blazers.!… Aaron (PS From now on I add the whole story since I can’t trust the source to maintain the article) Listing it all here it will stay forever!)

North San Diego and Southwest Riverside County News – –

By: BRADLEY J. FIKES – Staff Writer

Ever since the birth of her son Luke, allergies have been the focus of Carol D’Agnese’s life.

“I talk to buyers, I talk to line managers, to purchase managers in food-processing facilities —- I have to go right up the chain,” D’Agnese said.

The family, which lives in Rancho Penasquitos, carries its own food when going to parties. When traveling, the D’Agneses check the destination and the route to make sure they’re close to a hospital. And everywhere they go, they carry “epipens,” automatic injectors loaded with epinephrine, an antidote for anaphylaxis. They keep the injectors in the house, in the car, wherever Luke might go.

Flawed defense

Allergies occur when the body’s disease-fighting immune system goes astray. The immune system consists of antibodies and white blood cells that home in on intruders. With allergies, harmless substances trigger a frenzied defense, which can cause runny noses and other symptoms normally found in colds. So what is usually a defense itself becomes the problem.

Anaphylaxis is an extreme form of allergic reaction in which these symptoms are magnified. So instead of just a runny or swollen nose, the airway can totally close from the swelling, suffocating the patient. So for people like Luke, their natural defenses are also their greatest danger.

Mere contact with the allergen-containing foods can set off the reaction. Once, Luke was splashed with milk. Although D’Agnese quickly washed it off and took him to the hospital, Luke went into anaphylaxis. Over the next few hours, a scarlet rash spread across his skin.

“It looked like he had first-degree burns from his shoulder up,” D’Agnese said.

That was a slow reaction. When Luke actually ingests the allergen-containing food, the reaction is immediate. Luke was first diagnosed at 11 months, when he was fed cheese.

“His face and limbs started to swell within 10 to 15 seconds,” she said.

That was his first trip to the ER.

Luke understands his danger. When offered a new food, he’ll ask to know the ingredients, as he did recently with two brands of banana waffles.

“Both were labeled dairy free, nuts free, and vegan. My son said, can I really eat them? Read me the ingredients,” D’Agnese said.

One of the waffles, it turned out, carried a warning of potential “cross contamination,” because they had been made on a production line that had handled nuts.

“For us, there wasn’t a choice,” she said. “There’s no real room for error. He’s going to have to be aware of this for the rest of his life until it goes away, and it may never go away.”

Luke drove the point home by taking the initiative, D’Agnese said.

“He threw them away for me,” she said.

A normal disease?

Luke is at the extreme end of the allergic continuum. Most people find allergies an inconvenience, ones that can make life eye-wateringly, sneezingly miserable. But more serious diseases like asthma also are common.

It’s normal to have allergies, at least in the United States. More than half of Americans test positive to one or more allergens, according to the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease. Researchers at the institute and the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences published this finding in the August 2005 issue of the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology.

Dust mite, rye, ragweed and cockroach are the most common allergens; about one-quarter of the population is sensitive to them. For foods, peanuts top the list of allergens, with 9 percent of the population sensitive. Animal proteins, such as venom from bees and other stinging insects, cause allergic reactions, some life-threatening, in susceptible people. And drugs such as penicillin also can cause allergic reactions.

According to the NIAID, allergies are the sixth leading cause of chronic disease in the United States, at a cost of $18 billion a year.

Aside from developing allergic symptoms, allergies can be detected more comfortably in medical tests. One method is to apply small quantities of possible allergens to the skin, scratching or pricking the surface to make sure the allergen is absorbed. Food allergies can be diagnosed by changing the diet and observing the reaction. There’s also tests for abnormal functioning of the body’s disease-fighting immune system, which consists of antibodies and various types of white blood cells.


Just as allergic reactions can be caused by many different allergens, there are different underlying causes of allergies. There’s a genetic component with some allergies, such as certain kinds of asthma, a major health problem in the United States.

An estimated 9 million children younger than 18 years have been diagnosed with asthma, a rate of 12.5 percent, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Protection. And 25 percent of emergency room trips are asthma-related, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control.

The South Atlantic island of Tristan da Cunha has one of the world’s highest rates of asthma. About 100 of its 300 inhabitants are asthmatic, and the disease tends to run in families.

Sequana Therapeutics, a now-defunct San Diego biotechnology company, examined Tristan’s population and announced it had found the asthma-causing gene. However, further research found other genes implicated in asthma.

Race is also a factor; Blacks are three times more likely to be hospitalized with asthma and die of asthma as Caucasians, according to the Allergy and Asthma Foundation of America.

But genes aren’t the whole explanation; a large and growing body of research points to environmental causes such as air pollution. The incidence rate of asthma and other allergies has been increasing in the United States and other industrial societies for decades. From 1980 to 1999, the percentage of deaths primarily caused by asthma rose from under 15 percent to 20 percent, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

Getting help

While scientists search for answers and better treatments, those with allergies or their families help each other, such as through the Food Allergies & Anaphylaxis Network. FAAN’s San Diego chapter plans a fundraising walk Sept. 9 in Balboa Park.

The walk is sponsored by Verus Pharmaceuticals, a Carmel Valley company that makes a TwinJect, a double-dose epinephrine injector. More than 30 percent of anaphylaxis patients require more than one dose of epinephrine, said Amy Caterina, a spokeswoman for Verus. Go to for more information on the walk. Verus is at

D’Agnese said she was referred to FAAN by Children’s Hospital after her first trip with Luke to the emergency room. With her life turned upside down, the group gave her both support and knowledge.

“You have to completely rethink about how you live,” D’Agnese said. “It’s overwhelming for parents.”

Not only did the D’Agneses have a lot to learn, they had to educate everyone who comes into contact with Luke, such as friends, relatives and the preschool Luke attends, of his allergies.

Grateful for the support from FAAN, D’Agnese now volunteers with the group, and talks to parents of children with newly diagnosed allergies.

D’Agnese takes hope in knowing that many children outgrow their allergies, or at least become less allergic. Luke used to be allergic to soy products, but he outgrew that allergy at 3. That means Luke can enjoy soy ice cream and other soy-based alternatives to milk products.

.And Luke’s younger brother, Max, who will be 3 in September, has no known food allergies.

Anaphylaxis Friends, We are back! Finally!

It’s been awhile since our last post, but things have been crazy.

We have a new addition to the family Finn our 3rd child. He is now 7 weeks old and doing well, with no signs of allergies yet. Much to tell on that front with respects to a new baby with a pre-disposition to anaphylaxis.

Melanie is going to start posting her diary entries again soon to the blog. I know how much you all liked those.

I’ll be adding a newsletter feature to the site in the next day and you can all signup for it and get a great bonus for doing so. I’ll post how to get the free bonus gift tomorrow.