Food Allergy Crumb - Invisibly Allergic Blog

How Much Allergen Can Cause Anaphylaxis? [Dr. Julie Brown]

There’s No Food Allergy Cure Or Known Cause

A Shakespeare quote that has always resonated with me is, “Though she be but little, she is fierce!” and that’s how I view this week’s blog post (and myself)!! Although this post is short, I feel it holds a lot of weight. I hope that this image, and the fact that there isn’t much information regarding the cause of food allergies, can help raise awareness of how much more food allergy research needs to be done still. While we have come a long way since I was first diagnosed with my food allergy in 1990, there’s still a lot unknown, and no cure. 

Dr. Julie Brown’s Powerful Image


The information here is essentially a compilation of details I’ve found online surrounding the attached Dr. Julie Brown, MD image which shows, to scale, the amount of peanut residue that has been proven can cause a deadly episode of anaphylaxis. As I’ve discussed on Invisibly Allergic before, food allergies are a spectrum and so everyone’s food allergy experience is different and unique.

For some, it truly only takes a minuscule, tiny amount of peanut to go into anaphylaxis. In my experience, I went into anaphylaxis at the allergist’s office in response to testing me for peanuts, so I imagine it was an even smaller, diluted amount. When I research online how far down allergens are diluted for intradermal testing, it’s an extremely low amount, some sites say allergens can be diluted down to a 5 million fold for highly allergic individuals. Anytime I’ve had allergy testing done since via bloodwork, I’ve been told my allergy to peanuts is literally off the charts, so I have to be very careful since I’m airborne reactive and cross-contact reactive to trace amounts.

I’ve been called a “picky eater” in the past by people who didn’t know me well, assuming I was picky due to how I manage my peanut allergy. In reality, I’m not a picky eater, but a cautious eater, due to my life-threatening food allergy. This diagram showing the 1mg residue amount shows why I have to be so careful, and validates why others with food allergies may act cautious. My peanut allergy does put a slight damper on the adventurous side of me that enjoys eating out and trying new foods, but I can experiment with fresh produce and peanut-free facility products in a safe way. Before I eat or ingest anything, or even put new products on my skin or use non-food products around the house, a certain level of investigating has to be done at the forefront. Meaning, my life and especially my eating can’t be on a whim or on impulsive, but it can still be fun and exciting! This image shows what I often have had trouble putting into words for those without food allergies- the problem is how tiny the amount of a peanut particle can set off a life-threatening reaction, and how hidden it can be.

What Those With Food Allergies Are Up Against Daily

From this image, I hope you take away that this is what those in the food allergy community are up against every day, at every meal and snack, and with every bite. Not to mention, trace amounts of contamination getting on products and not involving eating at all can cause a lethal allergic reaction the same way. For example, someone handling a peanut butter sandwich could touch and contaminate an item, and pass that to a food-allergic friend later in the day who touches it. The undetectable peanut residue on their skin could cause a life-threatening reaction on its own, but what if they touch their eye or mouth? The examples are endless, and it’s a scary reality people with food allergies live with. I list more cross-contact examples and important information to know, like how to adminster epinephrine, in this article and free optional PDF & audio clip with the same food allergy 101 information.

I appreciate this image giving visual context to food allergies. I’d love to find more ways to communicate the food allergy experience to others, to gain not only food allergy awareness, but human connection, too.

This image validates my experience of being out and about living my everyday life, and suddenly having a reaction come on. It’s often impossible for me to pinpoint after the fact how much of my allergen got ingested, how I even got in contact with it, and when. Trying to figure out the cause of a reaction and backtrack is truly really difficult and most of the time an impossible ask unless there’s a clear source.

A Big thank you to Dr. Julie Brown for your research and providing this visual information for the food allergy community!

Here are a few other articles on Dr. Julie Brown, who specializes in epinephrine:

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  1. Zoe, thanks so much for your posts. It helps those of us who have never been around, or dealt with this kind of allergy personally to understand it so much better!


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