Wednesday, April 21, 2021

Deaths from food allergy declining in the UK, study shows

Deaths from serious allergic reactions due to food have declined over the past 20 years, despite an increase in hospital admissions for food-induced anaphylaxis over the same period, an analysis of UK NHS data had found.

The analysis – conducted by scientists from Imperial College London and published in the BMJ – also found that cows’ milk is the commonest single cause of fatal food-induced allergic reactions in school-aged children.

Around two million people are thought to live with a food allergy in the UK. Symptoms of an allergic reaction include an itching sensation inside the mouth, ears and throat, an itchy rash, and swelling of the face.

In anaphylaxis, which can sometimes be fatal, a person can develop breathing difficulties, trouble swallowing or speaking. However, deaths from anaphylaxis are rare. It is estimated that there are less than 10 fatalities due to food per year in the UK.

Dr Paul Turner, lead author of the study from Imperial’s National Lung and Heart Institute said: “This study raises two important points. The first is that despite hospital admissions increasing, the number of deaths from food-induced anaphylaxis has fallen.

“However, the second, more worrying point, is that cow’s milk is now the single most common cause of fatal allergic reactions in children.

“There is now a lot of awareness of allergies to peanut and tree nut, but many people think milk allergy is mild, perhaps because most children outgrow it.

“However, for those who don’t, it remains a big problem because milk is so common in our diet, and people don’t realise how dangerous it can be.”

The study, funded by the Food Standards Agency and Medical Research Council, analysed UK hospital admissions for food-induced anaphylaxis between 1998-2018, and how these compare to fatal anaphylaxis events.

Food Standard Agency ’s Head of Policy and Strategy for Food Hypersensitivity, Sushma Acharya, said: “These important findings help us understand the trends of severe food induced allergic reactions, like who is most at risk and which foods are responsible.

“This research is part of a wider study we have commissioned to support our ambition for the UK to be the best place in the world to be a food hypersensitive consumer.

“We want to improve the quality of life for people living with food hypersensitivity and support them to make safe informed food choices.

“We note that young adults are most at-risk from severe and fatal allergic reactions to foods. Our upcoming promotion to encourage young people to ask for allergen information when ordering food is one example of how this valuable data will be used to inform our campaigns and policy making.”

The team at Imperial are now investigating why some people may be more susceptible to severe allergic reactions, and whether factors such as genetics may play a role.

During the study period from 1998 to 2018, hospital admissions for food-induced anaphylaxis increased by 5.7% per year, or three-fold (from 1.23 to 4.04 admissions per 100,000 population per year).

Over the same time, the case fatality rate (number of fatalities compared to hospital admissions) for food-anaphylaxis more than halved, from 0.7% in 1998 to 0.3% in 2018. This may be due to better awareness of food allergy, and how to quickly recognise and treat serious allergic reactions.

Deaths from food-induced anaphylaxis are rare. The study also assessed food-related anaphylaxis fatalities, recorded since 1992, when data first became available. There had been 187 fatalities since 1992 where the cause of death was likely to be food-induced anaphylaxis. At least 86 (46%) of these were due to peanuts or tree nuts such as almonds, cashews and walnuts.

Sixty-six deaths were reported in children, of which 14% were caused by peanuts, 9% by tree nuts and in 12% of cases, the nut could not be identified. However, the most common single cause of fatal anaphylaxis was cows’ milk, responsible for 26% of cases. Furthermore, there was a trend towards a greater proportion of reactions being caused by milk since 1992.

The research team add that cow’s milk is quite protein-rich, meaning a small amount of cow’s milk can result in a significant exposure.

There was also a four-fold increase in prescriptions for adrenaline auto-injectors (such as Epipen and Jext devices) commonly used to treat anaphylaxis over the same time period. However, the research team are unclear what effect this has had on the number of deaths from severe reactions.

A message from the Editor:

Thank you for reading this story on our news site - please take a moment to read this important message:

As you know, our aim is to bring you, the reader, an editorially led news site and magazine but journalism costs money and we rely on advertising, print and digital revenues to help to support them.

With the Covid-19 pandemic having a major impact on our industry as a whole, the advertising revenues we normally receive, which helps us cover the cost of our journalists and this website, have been drastically affected.

As such we need your help. If you can support our news sites/magazines with either a small donation of even £1, or a subscription to our magazine, which costs just £31.50 per year, (inc p&P and mailed direct to your door) your generosity will help us weather the storm and continue in our quest to deliver quality journalism.

As a subscriber, you will have unlimited access to our web site and magazine. You'll also be offered VIP invitations to our events, preferential rates to all our awards and get access to exclusive newsletters and content.

Just click here to subscribe and in the meantime may I wish you the very best.
















Latest news

Related news

By continuing to use the site, you agree to the use of cookies. more information

The cookie settings on this website are set to "allow cookies" to give you the best browsing experience possible. If you continue to use this website without changing your cookie settings or you click "Accept" below then you are consenting to this.

Close