The killer allergy epidemic

When it comes to allergies, food allergies seem to get most of the publicity. But you’d be shocked to learn what the biggest allergy killer is – and it’s dished out by your doctor.

An analysis of death certificates by researchers at the Montefiore Medical Center and Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University show that in the United States, prescription medications are the leading cause of allergy-related sudden death in the U.S.

The people at the greatest risk: senior citizens and African-Americans.

And the annual number of these sudden deaths is climbing.

The technical term for sudden death from an allergic reaction is anaphylaxis. It takes place in a matter of seconds or minutes after you are exposed to an allergen.

“Anaphylaxis-related deaths in the U.S. have not been well understood in recent years,” says researcher Elina Jerschow, director of the Drug Allergy Center, Allergy and Immunology Division of Medicine, Montefiore Medical Center. “We hope these findings will help in identifying specific risk factors and allow physicians to formulate preventative approaches.”

The researchers analyzed anaphylaxis deaths as recorded on death certificates from 1999 to 2010. They found that allergies to medications was the most common listed cause of anaphylaxis death, totaling 58.8 percent of these fatalities. Other leading causes of deaths from anaphylaxis were reactions to venom (15.2 percent) and food (6.7 percent). In 19.3 percent of deaths the cause of anaphylaxis was not identified.

The scientists found there were 1,446 deaths from medications from 1999 to 2010. In 74 percent of the deaths attributed to pharmaceuticals, the problematic drug was not identified. Among the identified drugs, most often named were antibiotics followed by contrast chemicals given to people for diagnostic imaging procedures and chemotherapy used to treat cancer.

“Anaphylaxis has been dubbed ‘the latest allergy epidemic,'” says Jerschow. “The U.S. and Australia have some of the highest rates of severe anaphylaxis among developed countries. We hope these results bring increased awareness of the need for a better understanding of anaphylaxis deaths.”

Carl Lowe

By Carl Lowe

has written about health, fitness and nutrition for a wide range of publications including Prevention Magazine, Self Magazine and Time-Life Books. The author of more than a dozen books, he has been gluten-free since 2007.