News: Teen Saves Mom Driving with Anaphylaxis; Confusion on Labels

in Food Allergy, Food Allergy News
Published: February 4, 2021

Mom’s Scary Anaphylaxis at the Wheel

Courtesy Bustin Family / Today Show

A cool-headed 13-year-old saved his mom’s life after she passed out while driving – during her first-ever severe allergic reaction to peanuts. 

Lisa Bustin told NBC’s Today Show that while waiting for her son Nathan, who was at an ice hockey practice, she was suddenly hungry. Finding a jar of peanuts in the car that January day, she ate three handfuls. 

After Nathan got in the car, Bustin began driving home to their town of Clay in northern New York state. That’s when she began getting symptoms like feeling like her cheeks were on fire. Bustin was unaware that she’d developed an adult onset peanut allergy, and tried just rolling down the window to get air. 

Still driving, Bustin told Today that she fell unconscious. (In anaphylaxis, the blood pressure can plummet, causing a person to lose consciousness, or sometimes even have a heart attack.)

Driving with Mom Still on Gas Pedal

Quick-thinking Nathan told the program that he grabbed the steering wheel with his left hand while punching 911 on a mobile phone with his right hand. His mom’s leg had stiffened, with her foot on the gas pedal. Soon the car was moving at 40 miles per hour. Nathan kept the car weaving through traffic and finally brought it to a stop by hitting the back of a slow-moving truck. 

He pulled his mom out of the car, where she regained consciousness. First responders took them to the hospital. Tests revealed nothing wrong with Bustin’s heart, although it is now bursting with pride about her hero Nathan. “He didn’t panic. He just thought, ‘I’ve got to help my mom, save my mom,” she told Today’s reporter. 

Adult-onset food allergies are considered increasingly common, with a 2019 U.S. study finding as many as 12 million Americans had developed a food allergy in adulthood. 

Why people lose tolerance to a food is the subject of differing theories, and not much study yet. One expert told Allergic Living that the most common adult onset food allergies develop with foods eaten intermittently, not regularly. (Bustin, interestingly, says she almost never ate peanuts.) Another factor in severe reactions at any age can relate to the amount of food consumed. Three handfuls would also be what allergists would call “a large dose” of a food.

If you’re wondering: yes, Bustin is now carrying epinephrine auto-injectors, avoiding peanut and seeing an allergist. See Today’s article here. 

Study Finds Confusion over Allergy Labels

A study led by Northwestern University in Chicago captures the allergy consumer’s confusion about precautionary allergy labels, sometimes called “may contains”. 

The law called FALCPA requires manufacturers to clearly label the top 8 allergens in the USA, but then there is the gray area of the precautionary warnings for potential food cross-contact. When a food manufacturer adds: “may contain milk,” “or processed in a facility that uses tree nuts and eggs,” the allergy shopper is left uncertain: is this really not safe for my family?

The study involved 3,008 food allergy consumers. Only 24 percent could correctly answer four questions about precautionary label policies. Among other findings: 

  • 85.5% never buy products with a “may contain traces of ‘blank’ allergen” label.
  • 35% never buy products with “good manufacturing processes used to segregate ingredients in a facility that also processes ‘blank’ allergen”.
  • The top preference for a precautionary label was either “Not suitable for people with ‘blank’ allergy” (29.3% of participants) or “may contain” (22.1%).

Lead author Dr. Ruchi Gupta said the research shows the confusion about the meaning of the different warning labels. This is “causing consumers with food allergy to make their own decisions about the safety of a product based on the wording in the label,” says Gupta, director of the Center for Food Allergy & Asthma Research (CFAAR) at Northwestern’s Feinberg School of Medicine.