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Sesame Allergies on the Rise in U.S.

Sesame Seed Allergy Now Among Most Common Food Allergies
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WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

March 16, 2009 (Washington, D.C.) -- Blame the hummus!

Sesame seed allergies are rapidly rising in the U.S., but most Americans never even consider sesame bagels, hummus, or other sesame-containing foods as the source of their or their kids’ allergies, food allergy experts say.

And if your child is allergic to tree nuts, there’s a good chance he or she is allergic to sesame as well, new research shows.

“Sesame allergies have probably increased more than any other type of food allergy over the past 10 to 20 years,” says Robert Wood, MD, director of the division of pediatric allergy and immunology at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore.

“They’re now clearly one of the six or seven most common food allergens in the U.S.,” he tells WebMD.

Yet, the FDA does not recognize them as such, as there are no well designed studies looking at how many cases occur each year, Wood says. The FDA blames milk, eggs, fish and shellfish, tree nuts, peanuts, wheat, and soybeans for 90% of food allergies in the U.S.

That’s why Ama Alexis, MD, isn’t surprised that there is little awareness of this type of allergy. Alexis, a fellow in the division of allergy and immunology at Schneider Children’s Hospital in New Hyde Park, N.Y., is one of several researchers trying to better characterize sesame allergies in the U.S.

Alexis traces the steady rise in cases to a more ethnically diverse diet.

“We’re eating more foods that contain sesame seeds: falafel, tahini, hummus, and halvah, for example,” she says.

On top of that, “three quarters of Mexico’s sesame seeds go to McDonald’s for their sesame buns. Sesame is also widely used in cosmetics like lipsticks and moisturizing creams,” Alexis tells WebMD.

To find out more about sesame allergy, Alexis and colleagues mined the medical records of patients with a food allergy seen at their clinic between 2005 and 2008. They identified 17 patients with sesame allergy, ranging in age from 8 months to 44 years.

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