Words: Korin Miller
An 11-year-old from Brooklyn has reportedly died after suffering what appears to be a severe allergic reaction when he smelled fish that was cooking in his home.
Camron Jean-Pierre, who had a known fish allergy, became unconscious inside his house around 7:30 p.m. on New Year’s Day while his family was cooking cod, police told the New York Post. Jean-Pierre’s father called 911 and he was taken to a local hospital where he died.
While Jean-Pierre’s family suspects the boy died of an allergic reaction, the official cause of death still has yet to be determined.
Fish allergies are a frequent cause of anaphylaxis, a potentially life-threatening allergic reaction that appears quickly, impairs a person’s breathing and can send them into shock, according to the American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology (ACAAI).
People with a fish allergy can experience a range of symptoms, depending on how severe their allergy, but someone may have hives or a skin rash, nausea, stomach cramps, indigestion, vomiting and/or diarrhoea, a stuffy or runny nose and/or sneezing, headaches, asthma or anaphylaxis after being exposed to fish, the ACAAI says.
Usually, people have an allergic reaction after accidentally eating fish, but it’s actually possible to have one after breathing it in. “Foods with proteins that are stable to the cooking process can get into the air during heating,” Stacey Galowitz, DO, an allergist at ENT & Allergy Associates – Somerset, tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “If they then get into the airways of someone with a significant allergy to that food, this can lead to allergic symptoms.”
Again, this requires a severe food allergy and it’s “rare,” although “asthmatics may be at higher risk for this,” Purvi Parikh, MD, an allergist/immunologist with Allergy & Asthma Network, tells Yahoo Lifestyle.
It’s also more likely that someone will experience less severe symptoms like hives, itching and an asthmatic reaction if they breathe in a food allergen, Galowitz says.
Unfortunately, it can be hard to predict who will have a reaction by simply breathing in the smell of a food they’re allergic to, but there are some clues. “Some factors that put you at higher risk may include asthma, severity of allergy as measured by a skin or blood test and history of previous anaphylaxis,” Parikh says.
Olajumoke Fadugba, MD, director of the Allergy and Immunotherapy Fellowship Training Program at Penn Medicine, adds, “For most patients, the severity of the reaction depends on how much of the food matter is in the air, and how sensitive that individual is, [but] most people do not develop reactions at all from inhaling food they are allergic to.” Fadugba also says it’s “a good idea to wear a medical alert bracelet to let other people know about your allergy in case you’re unable to.”
Simply being aware that this can happen and taking the right precautions is also important, Galowitz says. “Foods such as shellfish can more commonly become aerosolized due to their heating processes,” she says. “This is even more common in a seafood restaurant where large quantities are being prepared and being served steaming hot to the tables.” That’s why she recommends her patients with a known severe fish allergy steer clear of seafood restaurants, and avoid cooking fish or shellfish at home.
If you or your child happens to have a food allergy this severe, Parikh recommends educating family and friends to take the allergy seriously. She also recommends keeping an epinephrine auto injector like an Epi-Pen available at all times. “It should be used immediately and medical evaluation should also be sought,” she says. “In life threatening allergic reactions, timing is everything and delay in administration of epinephrine can be deadly.”
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