About 11 million Americans throughout the country have food allergies. In South Central Kentucky the number of people who suffer from food allergies is growing.
Although people of all ages can be allergic to certain foods, the illness is more prevalent in children. Doctors say people underestimate how dangerous the illness really is.
Maggie Blair is three-years-old. She loves dancing, playing tag, eating popcorn, pizza and corn on the cob, but when Maggie was one she had an allergic reaction to food.
"It was the most frightening thing I've ever experienced in my life," said Leslie Blair, Maggie's mother.
Food allergies are a leading cause of potentially fatal allergic reactions. Maggie's parents weren't sure if she was going to make it.
"She was lifeless in our arms. She wasn't breathing," Blair explained.
Shortly after doctor's treated Maggie she was fine. They still don't know what exactly Maggie ate to cause that reaction, but there are several tests that can be done to determine what foods people are allergic to.
"We do blood tests with Dr. Cavanah a couple times a year," Blair said.
Maggie isn't allowed to have milk, wheat, eggs and nuts.
"I'll get sick," Maggie said.
Maggie has only had one other allergic reaction. She was given a saltine cracker in daycare, but it wasn't as serious as the first reaction.
Doctor Diana Cavanah said she works with schools to create safe lunch menus and to prevent cross contamination with packed lunches.
"It's really important that good hand washing techniques be done and we clean up after eating," Dr. Cavanah explained.
Maggie has learned what foods she's not allowed to have and knows what to say if someone offers her unsafe food.
"That's not safe. I have food allergies," Maggie exampled.
If Maggie does eat something she shouldn't her mom said they're prepared.
"We do have a medical kit we carry with us everywhere that has that has epi pens and we carry Benadryl. She also wears a medical alert bracelet," Blair said.
Doctor Cavanah said if you don't know your child is allergic to certain foods and they have a reaction, give them Benadryl and get them to the emergency room as soon as possible.
There is no way to prevent or cure food allergies so the best thing to do is avoid unsafe food.
Doctor Cavanah said food allergies are not genetic so it's hard to know who is allergic to certain foods.
Dr. Cavanah is one of three people in the country who received the Mariel C. Furlong award for her contributions in helping children with food allergies.
The award was given to Dr. Cavanah in conjunction with Food Allergy Awareness Week, May 13 - May 19.
To find out more about the local food allergy support group call the Graves Gilbert Clinic at 270-781-5111.