Background Allergic reactions to food are well recognized in both children and adults, but because of their relative infrequency their typical features may not be readily recognized by patients and their medical care givers who are not allergists.
Objective We sought to investigate the circumstances and clinical characteristics of food allergies in adults and children in the community.
Methods Self-completed questionnaire responses over a 6-month period from 109 members of the Anaphylaxis Campaign, the major British patient resource group for people who have suffered severe allergic reactions.
Results One hundred and nine respondents reported 126 reactions during the study period. Seventy-five were children (under 16 years, median age 6 years at the time of reaction). Predictably more boys than girls were reported to have had reactions but more women reported reactions than men (P<0.05). Although the groups were equally aware of their food allergies the children had undergone diagnostic tests more often (P<0.001). Foods were implicated in 112 (89%) of reports. Restaurants were implicated less often (14%) than in other series, probably reflecting British eating habits. Children with asthma reported more severe reactions than those without asthma (P=0.008), although frequency or severity of recent asthma symptoms was not associated with severity of allergic reaction reported. When available, self-injectable adrenaline was used in 35% of severe reactions and 13% of non-severe reactions (P=0.01). A quarter of adults who received one dose of adrenaline also received a second dose.
Conclusion The allergens implicated in this report reflect previous data from similar patient groups in North America. Asthmatic children suffer more severe reactions than non-asthmatic children. It appears that British adults need better access to expert care of their allergies. Even when it is prescribed and available self-injectable adrenaline appears under-used in severe reactions. The incidence of severe but non-fatal allergic reactions in the UK may have been underestimated in the past.