DR. HOOK- Allergic reaction: When everything's a potential killer

Everyone has a comfort food. Oprah, Dr. Phil, Oprah, Kirstie Ally, Oprah, Star Jones, Oprah, Prime Minster Ariel Sharon, and Opr... ooh– let it go!

Okay, so I will share a deep dark secret. I too have a comfort food. Well, actually a couple of comfort foods. Chinese Family Style Tofu is one. Yes, it sounds healthy, but it does cheer me up. Oh, and hot and sour soup. My parents always said that you can judge the quality of a Chinese restaurant by its hot and sour soup– like you can judge a Diva by her shoes.

Peanut butter is my big comfort food. Some take it with jelly or honey, but I'm a purist– straight up on whole wheat bread. A serving of peanut butter is something ridiculously small– like one or two tablespoons. I use a ladle. Sometime I skip the bread– like Celine Dion would: "I'd like a pizza without bread, sauce, and cheese."

Would my life change if I became allergic to peanuts? In late November, there was a tragedy in Quebec when a 15-year-old girl died after kissing her boyfriend who had recently eaten a peanut butter sandwich. According to CNN, she took her epinephrine shot appropriately to treat anaphylaxis, but she did not survive. (Anaphylaxis is not a Russian princess. Anaphylaxis is the worst of the worst allergic reactions that include a drop in blood pressure, shortness of breath, choking from throat swelling, and hives.)

Food allergies are due to the body's immune system reacting against protein in certain foods. Common symptoms include a rash, itching, swelling, sneezing, wheezing, vomiting, diarrhea, and malabsorption. Hmmm, I get these symptoms when I listen to Country Music. (Sorry, Kenny Chesney. Hmm, does Renee Zellweger have the same problem?)

Foods that are commonly involved in these types of allergies include cow's milk, soy, egg, wheat, fish, shellfish, tree nuts (walnuts, almonds, etc), and peanuts. (That pretty much eliminates the population of Thailand if they all had food allergies.) There are 5 billion theories why food allergies are becoming more common, and I dread all the emails about to come to me from people explaining their own theories: "It is from all the additives in baby foods," "It is from the lack of exposure of these foods," "It is a plot by the PLO since they can't afford Anthrax."

Researchers in the United Kingdom surveyed 15,000 households to study food allergies and identified only 1.4 percent with allergies to food, though 20 percent of adults perceive themselves to have food allergies. In fact, infants and young children have food allergies more than adults; it's just that adults whine about it more. However, I do have a friend whose tongue blows up like a balloon after eating certain fruits which should be renamed "Blow Pops." Could it be from the delicious pesticides?

An allergist is the best professional to see to confirm food allergies– and more importantly, determine what foods are involved. Also a diary of what foods cause what symptoms in what time period is what we need to know.

It's too bad airplanes can't even serve us those 3-4 peanuts anymore in those microscopic bags. Now you only get 1-2 pretzels in the same size bag. But with deadly reactions to peanuts on the rise, it's totally understandable. It gives the expression, "That's nothing– it's just peanuts!" a whole new meaning now. I'm sure people are even scared now to name their kid "Skippy."