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Food Allergy Awareness Week: increasing understanding to prevent avoidable fatalities

Posted: 18/05/2018

Food Allergy Awareness week (13-19 May 2018) is an initiative put forward by FARE (Food Allergy Research and Education), with the aim of improving the public’s understanding of the potentially life-threatening nature of food allergies which many people suffer from. Food allergies can be confused with more common and less severe food intolerances. It is important to understand how food allergies are different, and how, without proper medical attention, they can be fatal.

What causes a food allergy?

Food allergies occur when the body’s immune system overreacts to a protein found in food – an allergen. As a result, chemicals are released in the body. It is these chemicals that cause the symptoms of an allergic reaction. Although some allergic reactions can be mild, others are severe.

Food allergies are commonly divided into three types:

  • IgE mediated food allergy – this is the most common type, and is caused by the immune system producing an antibody called immunoglobulin E (IgE). Symptoms occur seconds after eating, and can lead to anaphylaxis;
  • non-IgE-mediated food allergy – these allergies are caused by different immune cells, and symptoms usually take several hours to develop;
  • mixed IgE and non-IgE-mediated food allergies – sometimes individuals may experience symptoms of both types.

What foods can cause an allergic reaction?

Food allergies usually start in infancy. Although almost any food has the potential to cause an allergic reaction, there are certain types which more commonly cause a reaction:

  • milk
  • eggs
  • peanuts
  • tree nuts – eg walnuts, brazil nuts, almonds and hazelnuts
  • fish
  • shellfish

What are the symptoms?

Common symptoms of a food allergy include:

  • itching inside the mouth, throat or ears
  • a raised itchy red rash
  • swelling of the face, around the eyes, lips, tongue and roof of the mouth 
  • vomiting

In the case of anaphylaxis, these symptoms can be accompanied by breathing difficulties, increased heartbeat, confusion and loss of consciousness. The rapid onset of these symptoms can be fatal.

What to do if someone has anaphylaxis

Anaphylaxis is a serious medical emergency. NHS guidance sets out what to do if someone has the symptoms of anaphylaxis:

  • use an adrenaline auto-injector if the person has one – but make sure you know how to use it correctly first;
  • call 999 for an ambulance immediately (even if they start to feel better) – mention that you think the person has anaphylaxis;
  • remove any trigger if possible – for example, carefully remove any wasp or bee sting stuck in the skin;
  • lie the person down flat – unless they're unconscious, pregnant or having breathing difficulties;
  • give another injection after 5-15 minutes if the symptoms don't improve and a second auto-injector is available.

Further information

Getting information out to the public on food allergies is vital to prevent avoidable fatalities. More information on food allergies can be found on the FARE website: and also on NHS UK:

How we can help

If you or your family have had experience of a delay in treatment of a food allergy leading to an avoidable adverse outcome, please do not hesitate to contact our experienced clinical negligence team who will be happy to help.

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