In The News: National News

The FASTER Act: What it Means for the Rise of Sesame Allergies and Food Allergy Research

On Friday, April 23, 2021, President Biden signed the Food Allergy Safety, Treatment, Education and Research (FASTER) Act (S. 578), requiring that sesame be labeled on packaged foods and prioritizing food allergy research. This milestone has been years in the making, largely due to the rise in sesame allergies and the growth of food allergies and intolerance worldwide.

While sesame allergies have been increasing in the United States over the past 20 years, recent research released by the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology (AAAAI) in 2019 officially denoted sesame as the ninth most common food allergy in the United States. This new act mandates that beginning on January 1, 2023, all foods containing sesame should indicate the ingredient on the label.

Why is the FASTER Act important?

The passing of the FASTER Act is critical and timely as this will not only provide safety measures through food labels for individuals who are allergic to sesame, but also prioritizes food allergy advocacy and research. In fact, the act requires the Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) to issue a report on scientific opportunities in food allergy research that examines prevention, treatment and potential cures – an exciting step in management and care for the 85 million Americans who are affected by food allergies or intolerances.

How prevalent are sesame allergies in the U.S.?

Currently, more than 1.1 million Americans are allergic to sesame and some experts consider sesame allergy to have “increased more than any other food allergy over the past 10 – 20 years” in the United States. Until now, it has been much trickier to avoid sesame for those who are sesame allergic given the lack of official labeling, compared to other prevalent food allergies such as peanuts, eggs, etc.

What are the most common foods for sesame to be found in?

Oftentimes, sesame seeds are added to breads or sprinkled on hamburger buns. They are also frequently included in baked crackers. In addition, sesame is very popular in a variety of cuisines including Middle Eastern, Chinese, Japanese, Vietnamese and Korean. Sesame oil is also used for cooking such as marinating meats and vegetables for deep frying.

Here in the Lowcountry, sesame seeds are plentiful in our infamous “benne wafers,” believed to have been brought to Charleston during the 17th century by West African slaves. The benne wafers, or cookies, are both sweet and savory, and have always been deemed a “Charleston staple.”

Other foods that commonly contain sesame include:

  • Bread crumbs
  • Cereals (such as granola or muesli)
  • Chips (bagel chips, pita chips and tortilla chips)
  • Dipping sauces (baba ghanoush, hummus, tahini)
  • Falafel
  • Flavored rice, noodles, risotto, shish kebabs, stews and stir fry
  • Herbs and herbal drinks
  • Margarine
  • Processed meats and sausages
  • Protein and energy bars
  • Sushi
  • Vegetarian burgers

As you can see, avoiding sesame can become quite cumbersome, as it is found in so many foods that our society enjoys on a daily basis. It can even be found in some non-food items such as cosmetics, medications, nutritional supplements and pet foods.

What are the most common symptoms for a sesame allergy?

The level of sensitivity to sesame can vary from person to person, so not all reactions are the same. As with any allergy, reactions can also be unpredictable. Symptoms of a sesame allergy reaction can range from mild, such as hives, to severe, such as anaphylaxis.

How do I know if I’m allergic to sesame?

As recommended for suspicion of any food allergy, it is suggested that you request an appointment with a board-certified allergist. Your allergist will administer a physical exam, take a detailed medical history and possibly suggest a skin test. With a skin test, your results are available within minutes.

If you are diagnosed with a food allergy, your board-certified allergist will determine the best course of action to manage your allergy and avoid ingredients that could trigger an allergic reaction.

Our hope is that with the latest improvements in legislation surrounding sesame allergies, it will become easier for those who are allergic to sesame to avoid foods that can cause dangerous allergic reactions. We are also excited for the future of food allergy medicine with the emphasis on research and treatment that the FASTER Act brings!

If you are concerned you might have an allergy to sesame or another food, contact our team today to meet with one of our board-certified allergists.

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How COVID-19 Has Impacted Pediatric Wellness Visits

Our whole world has been turned upside down. One year ago, you were enjoying social activities, going to the beach, watching and participating in competitive sports, and visiting your physician if you had a medical problem. Since the beginning of this year, however, we have experienced a global pandemic with a coronavirus that has rapidly spread throughout the world. This phenomenon was fairly unknown to current generations, as the most recent pandemic of this nature occurred with the Spanish flu over 100 years ago. To date, the world has experienced tens of thousands of deaths and crippling, long lasting disease, overflowing hospitals, overwhelming fear and the addition of new terms to our vocabulary such as “social distancing” and “flatten the curve.”

With the onslaught of this international pandemic and no available adequate medical therapy, we have been forced to isolate ourselves and our families until a protective vaccine is developed. There is currently an international race to acquire this vaccine, however, vaccines require intensive safety and efficacy testing on thousands of people. It is likely that a vaccine for COVID-19 will not be available until the end of this calendar year.

One of the unintended consequences of this isolation due to the COVID-19 virus has been the disruption of routine childhood vaccinations. The decrease of administered vaccines is on a scale that hasn’t been  seen since widespread immunization programs began in the 1970s. Vaccine disruption has been caused by several circumstances. Parents are no longer taking children to clinics because of movement restrictions imposed by spread of the coronavirus or fear of risk of exposure to this virus. Health workers who provide vaccinations have also been diverted to help with response to the pandemic. This disruption has caused some 80 million children around the world to be at higher risk for preventable infectious diseases such as diphtheria, whooping cough, measles and polio.

According to the World Health Organization, UNICEF and the Sabin Vaccine Institute, childhood vaccine programs have been disrupted in at least 68 countries due to the COVID pandemic. With the expected continuation of the pandemic, this immense vaccination program is now under threat, risking the resurgence of previously controlled infectious diseases.

A CDC morbidity and mortality weekly report issued in May 2020 examined the pandemic’s effect on childhood vaccines. This report documented substantial decreases in the number of vaccines ordered and administered to children since the United States declared an international emergency in response to the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020.

Routine childhood immunizations remain a vital component of pediatric healthcare, even during the COVID-19 pandemic. Children’s immune systems are still developing from passive immunity acquired through the mother’s placenta in utero. Vaccinations help produce antibodies (active immunity) in those who receive them, allowing the immune system to recognize viruses or bacteria and fight off these diseases or limit the severity of complications if exposed to the actual disease. Immunizations also protect public health through herd immunity, preventing widespread outbreak of highly infectious diseases, particularly measles and whooping cough. Individuals who have not been vaccinated and contract these infectious diseases could spread it to susceptible individuals for up to a week before developing any personal symptoms. Some childhood vaccines that were once believed to lead to lifelong immunity have actually been found to decrease in effectiveness during patients’ late teenage years, particularly for pertussis (whooping cough). Recently, recommendations for adult immunizations have changed to include boosters for diphtheria, tetanus, whooping cough and measles. The likelihood of catastrophic spread of common infectious diseases, such as whooping cough, drastically increases if a large portion of the adult population is able to contract the virus without realizing it.

The CDC continues to encourage childhood immunizations during the COVID-19 crisis, with recent recommendations for healthcare providers to continue with patient visits during this pandemic. For parents who choose not to immunize their children during the pandemic, there are “catch-up” schedules provided by the CDC so the children won’t need to start over or repeat doses that have already been received. Many childcare centers are also allowing a grace period for childhood immunizations at this time. In order to help reduce the spread of these viruses, the CDC recommends social distancing and separating sick children from well children.

As of yet, there have been no reports of localized outbreaks of common pediatric infectious diseases such as measles, whooping cough or polio. However, these diseases are still present in the community and if immunization levels drop and herd immunity slips below 70%, the potential for outbreaks both internationally and in the U.S. increase. Our team currently urges patients to please make every attempt to maintain routine childhood immunizations for your children during this pandemic. We are also hopeful for a rapid and effective COVID-19 vaccine!

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Doctor with woman and child

Asthma: Have You Been Misdiagnosed?

A new study indicates as many as one in three individuals with a current diagnosis of asthma may have been misdiagnosed. This apparently is not uncommon when proper testing is not obtained with initial diagnosis. This study emphasis that diagnosis and long term management of asthma requires objective measurements of lung function and that without pulmonary function data in long term asthma management, misdiagnosis can often occur. We routinely perform breathing tests at Charleston Allergy & Asthma including spirometry, impulse oscillometry and methacholine inhalation challenge.

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Christmas ornament

Allergies During the Holiday Season

Sneezing through “the most wonderful time of the year?” Well, there is a very good reason for that, allergy and asthma triggers are everywhere, including your holiday decorations. And as it gets colder, we tend to stay indoors and curl up with a fire, a warm blanket and dust mites. No one wants to miss out on all the holiday cheer, so here are few tips and tricks to get you through the festivities without your nose looking like Rudolf’s.

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New EpiPen Law Designed To Protect Children with Asthma and Severe Allergies

Allergic reactions to foods are one of the most common causes for childhood anaphylaxis. Accurate allergy evaluation can define specific food allergies. A Board Certified Allergist can educate the child and their family on avoidance of specific foods and also prepare children and their families for prompt treatment in the event of an accidental food allergen exposure.

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Deadly Fire Ant Attacks on the Rise

Days ago a 12-year-old boy from Texas died due to a severe allergic reaction to fire ant bites. The boy was attacked while warming up for the second half of a football game and eventually fell unconscious before being taken to the hospital. In July, 2013, a Georgia woman age 65 also passed away due to a severe allergic reaction to the same type of fire ant venom. After being bitten by the pool at her condo, she fell into anaphylactic shock and died in a hospital days later from complications.

Allergy to fire ants has become an increasing problem in the Southeast as these imported insects become more widespread.  Fire ants are actually native of South America, having spread to the Southeastern United States in the early to mid 1900s.  Currently fire ants can be found throughout the Southeastern United States up to the Mason Dixon line and in western states including New Mexico and  Arizona. These aggressive ant species have almost completely eradicated native ant species in the Southeast.

Fire ants are ubiquitous in both rural and city areas, with estimated current sting rate for fire ants in the low country area approximately 30% of the population per year!

How do fire ant attacks occur?


Fire ants bite with their jaws and while holding on with jaws, will repeatedly sting with abdominal stinger.  The sting area will usually develop a sterile pustule within 3-4 hours of sting but this pustule may not be visible immediately after sting.  Reactions can range from local painful reactions, particularly if multiple stings, to more severe systemic reactions including anaphylaxis.  Fire ant sting deaths have been reported in both humans and livestock in the Southeast.

If the patient develops a generalized anaphylactic reaction to fire ant with symptoms including hives, swelling, flushing, itching, vomiting, and respiratory difficulty, they should be evacuated immediately to an emergency room.  Epinephrine should be given immediately if available. Epinephrine is the only drug that can reverse a serious life-threatening reaction to fire ant stings.

How can someone prevent this from happening?

If the patient has allergies to fire ants confirmed by allergy testing, they can receive allergy extract immunotherapy – a therapy which can prevent future life-threatening reactions.  All patients with fire ant allergy should have an EpiPen or Auvi-Q automatic epinephrine injection device available when outdoors. A variety of insecticides have been used for fire ant eradication however all of these insecticides are only transiently effective and at present, we are certainly not winning the battle to control the spread of these dangerous insects.

via Post and Courier

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