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Are we more worried about food allergies than we should be?

Caution: Handle with gloves.  Learn more with hidden home danger pictures.

Of the many things parents are encouraged to freak out about, the fear that a peanut will cross their toddler's lips is way up there. Parents are told not to let their kids have peanut products before age 3, due to the risk of the child having a serious or even fatal allergic reaction.

As if peanuts weren't getting enough bad press in the 24-hour news cycle, alongside the inflated dangers of shark attacks and cell phones, a 2009 salmonella outbreak with origins in a Georgia peanut plant killed nine and left hundreds of consumers sick, prompting a massive recall of peanuts by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). By this time, the lethality of the common peanut became part of the American public consciousness.

In recent years, there has been growing alarm over food allergies -- especially allergic reactions to peanuts -- in children. Fatal allergic reactions in children at school have raised concern in parents and school administrators alike. Currently, around 1 in 3 schools ban some type of food for allergy reasons [source: Broussard]. Congress has gotten involved with the creation of an act -- the Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Management Act of 2009 -- that calls for schools to act in ways that counter the risk of serious food allergy reactions. Some professional sports teams have even sponsored "no-peanut night" promotions.

Simultaneous with the increase in warnings about food allergies is an effort to develop treatments for them. Should a new drug be developed that can protect people -- especially children -- against food allergies, its use could prove literally to be a lifesaver, and the new drug would almost be guaranteed to meet a very receptive and concerned consumer population of parents.

While food allergies are certainly of great concern, there have been questions regarding the methodology and even possible manipulation of statistics in order to heighten the sense of worry, thus creating more demand for a treatment.

And if you've seen someone have a serious food allergy reaction, you wouldn't doubt the potential danger. Reactions can cause the allergic person to develop hives, have difficulty breathing and require emergency medical attention. There are about 150 deaths each year caused by various food allergies [source: Schwartz].

So what causes food allergies? Continue reading to find out.