Allergy is the immune system’s excessive sensitivity and over-response to harmless foreign substances, named allergens, such as plant pollens, house dust mites, animal hair or certain foods as if they were real threats.
The respiratory allergies have a significant impact on the patient, the patient’s family and on the society. These affect multiple parameters including quality of life, physical, psychological and social functioning and has important financial consequences.
Although there are differences among countries, the incidence and prevalence of respiratory allergies is increasing worldwide1. In Europe, the overall prevalence of patients with allergic rhinitis is 23%2, while in the United States is estimated at 22%3. The prevalence of patients with asthma in Europe ranges from 2.3% in Switzerland to 11% in Ireland4, whereas in the United States increased from 7.3% in 2001 to 8.4% in 20105.
The increasing recognition that allergic rhinitis and allergic asthma frequently co-exist, has led to the concept that these seemingly separate disorders are the same disease, with symptoms occurring to a greater or lesser extent in the upper airways (rhinitis) or lower airways (asthma). When patients with either allergic rhinitis or allergic asthma are thoroughly investigated, it is frequently found that they have allergic inflammation and airway sensitivity throughout all of the airways.
Food allergy is an abnormal immune response to certain foods that the body reacts to as harmful. The most severe manifestation of food allergy is anaphylaxis. Estimates of the prevalence of food allergies range from approximately 4% to 8% of children and 2% of adults. Though reasons for this are poorly understood, the prevalence of food allergies and associated anaphylaxis appears to be on the rise.
Eight foods account for about 90% of all food-allergy reactions: cow’s milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts (for example, walnuts, pecans, almonds, and cashews), fish, shellfish, soybeans, and wheat6. While 3.3 million Americans are allergic to peanuts or tree nuts, 6.9 million are allergic to seafood.
In Europe, around 11 to 26 million people are estimated to suffer from food allergy7. According to the WAO White Book on Allergy (Update 2013), if this prevalence is projected onto the world’s population of 7 billion, it translates into 240-550 million potential food-allergic people, a huge global health burden.
Some allergic reactions are mild and resolve spontaneously, but the most severe allergic reactions to food can lead to anaphylaxis and to death. Therefore, accurate diagnosis of food allergy is considered as of utmost importance. Considering the severity of food allergy as well as its increasing prevalence, improved diagnostic tests and definitive therapies are desirable.
In particular, allergic reactions to peanuts in both children and adults can be severe and can involve life-threatening symptoms (anaphylaxis). Fatal food allergic reactions are rare, they are more common in teenagers and adults than in children, but peanuts are reported to be the commonest cause of such fatalities across all age groups. Sensitivity varies significantly between individuals and the most sensitive can react to very small (mg or, in very rare cases, μg) amounts of peanut proteins.
(1): Pawankar et al., White Book on Allergy, 2013
(2): Bauchau et al., Eur Respir J 2004
(3): Nathan et al, Allergy Asthma Proc 2008
(4): EFA Book on Respiratory Allergies 2012
(5): Akinbami et al., CDC, 2012
(7): Mills et al., Allergy 2007