Can reactions to food allergies cause death in children?

Vandana  R. Sheth
Nutrition & Dietetics

Yes, unfortunately, if not treated appropriately and immediately, a severe food allergic reaction can cause death in children.  According to the Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network--

  • As many as 15 million Americans have food allergies, including approximately 6 million children.
  • The CDC reported that food allergies result in over 300,000 ambulatory-care visits a year among children.

According to an April 2007 “Journal of Allergy & Clinical Immunology” research study found that of the deaths of 31 individuals who suffered fatal anaphylaxis--Peanuts accounted for 17 of the deaths (55%); tree nuts caused 8; milk caused 4; and shrimp 2.  Epinephrine availability is a key factor in the cause of death with only 4 of the fatalities having received epinephrine in a timely fashion. The location of the deaths wasn’t known in all the instances; however the most common occurrence was at a restaurant.

Any allergic reaction that causes swelling in the airway can cause death. Children have smaller airways so they are at risk of death if their airway is compromised. If an allergy to food is known and the severity of the allergic reaction puts the child at risk for airway occlusion, the pediatrician will prescribe an epipen to be carried around in the event of an allergic reaction. Avoidance of foods that cause allergies is generally the most successful and teaching the child to ask questions about the ingredients in food is generally successful.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.