Find Information About:

Drugs & Supplements

Get information and reviews on prescription drugs, over-the-counter medications, vitamins, and supplements. Search by name or medical condition.

Pill Identifier

Pill Identifier

Having trouble identifying your pills?

Enter the shape, color, or imprint of your prescription or OTC drug. Our pill identification tool will display pictures that you can compare to your pill.

Get Started

My Medicine

Save your medicine, check interactions, sign up for FDA alerts, create family profiles and more.

Get Started

WebMD Health Experts and Community

Talk to health experts and other people like you in WebMD's Communities. It's a safe forum where you can create or participate in support groups and discussions about health topics that interest you.

  • Second Opinion

    Second Opinion

    Read expert perspectives on popular health topics.

  • Community


    Connect with people like you, and get expert guidance on living a healthy life.

Got a health question? Get answers provided by leading organizations, doctors, and experts.

Get Answers

Sign up to receive WebMD's award-winning content delivered to your inbox.

Sign Up

Allergies Health Center

Font Size

How Common Are Severe Food Allergies?

Study Shows Life-Threatening Reactions Account for 1 of Every 100 ER Visits
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

March 6, 2006 (Miami Beach, Fla.) -- Life-threatening allergic reactions to peanuts, seafood, and other foods are much more common than previously recognized, accounting for more than 1 million visits to emergency rooms each year, a new study shows.

"This represents about 1 in every 100 emergency room visits," says researcher Carlos Camargo, MD, an associate professor of medicine and epidemiology at Harvard Medical School.

Camargo presented his study on anaphylaxis, a severe life-threatening allergic reaction to food, at the annual meeting of the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology.

Many ER doctors not only fail to recognize anaphylaxis for what it is, but then they fail to treat it, he says.

Only about half of patients suffering anaphylaxis who came to the emergency room received epinephrine, a standard medication used to treat allergic reactions, Camargo tells WebMD. Yet about one-fourth of patients had symptoms severe enough to require hospitalization, he says.

Not Just Children

Camargo and colleagues used data from the National Hospital Ambulatory Medical Care Survey to study ER trends in treating people with severe food allergies.

Among the other findings:

  • Two-thirds of people seeking emergency room care for severe allergies were women, and their average age was 35. "This older age was surprising," Camargo says, "as we often think of food allergies as a children's condition."
  • 11% of the people arrived by ambulance.
  • When making out the charts, ER doctors wrote down that only 1% of the people with severe food allergies were actually suffering from anaphylaxis. "This is very different from our experience, where we found that 30% to 50% of acute allergic reactions in the emergency room are anaphylaxis," he says.

Better Diagnosis Needed

The problem, Camargo says, is that a better definition of anaphylaxis is needed. While many people think that anaphylaxis requires that the victim is in shock, this just isn't so, he says. "A person doesn't have to have falling blood pressure or be in shock before a diagnosis is made. Any multisystem allergic reaction with symptoms such as shortness of breath, rash, or vomiting is anaphylaxis."

Today on WebMD

man blowing nose
Make these tweaks to your diet, home, and lifestyle.
Allergy capsule
Breathe easier with these products.
cat on couch
Live in harmony with your cat or dog.
Woman sneezing with tissue in meadow
Which ones affect you?

blowing nose
woman with sore throat
lone star tick
Woman blowing nose

Send yourself a link to download the app.

Loading ...

Please wait...

This feature is temporarily unavailable. Please try again later.


Now check your email account on your mobile phone to download your new app.

cat lying on shelf
Allergy prick test
Man sneezing into tissue
Woman holding feather duster up to face, twitching