A boy became fatally ill after inhaling fish that was being cooked in his grandmother's Brooklyn home. 
Credit: Danny Kim for TIME

Last year, a study published in the journal Pediatrics noted that around 5.6 million—or 8 percent of—children in the U.S. have a food allergy. Of the total, around 1.6 million children were allergic to peanuts; 1.4 million to milk; 1 million to shellfish; and 900,000 to tree nuts. A further 600,000 were at risk of being sickened by eggs; 400,000 by fin fish; and the same number by wheat and soy.

A recent tragedy out of Brooklyn, New York, illustrates how these stats can lead to tragedy. An 11-year-old boy passed away on New Year's Day, and officials suspect the cause was an allergic reaction to the smell of cooking fish. 

Camron Jean-Pierre was visiting his grandmother in Brooklyn, along with his father Steven, according to the New York Post. The boy's grandmother had been preparing cod, and the fumes caused the pre-teen to be knocked unconscious.

“It just so happens they was cooking it when we came in,” Steven explained to the Post. “Usually he don’t get nothing that severe.”

The boy had a known allergy to fish, and his father quickly gave him his portable nebulizer, but he couldn’t catch a breath. “I [tried] to give him the machine—that usually works—but it didn’t take, and then I just called the ambulance,” Steven explained. “It felt like he had no pulse. I [tried] to give him CPR, and he came back” briefly, but soon slipped away again, the dad recalled.

When first responders arrived, they rushed the boy to Brookdale Hospital, but he couldn't be saved. “My son was the best,” Steve shared. “He made everyone around him happy. He made his dad happy.”

While police are still investigating the definitive cause of Camron's death. Although we tend to think of allergic reactions as stemming from ingestion as opposed to inhalation, the American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology warns people with allergies to fish to "Stay out of areas where fish is being cooked, as proteins may be released into the air during cooking."

Parents should also note the following fish allergy symptoms:

  • Hives or a skin rash
  • Nausea, stomach cramps, indigestion, vomiting and/or diarrhea
  • Stuffy or runny nose and/or sneezing
  • Headaches
  • Asthma
  • Anaphylaxis (less common), a potentially life-threatening reaction that impairs breathing and can cause the body to go into shock

Purvi Parikh, MD, an adult and pediatric allergist and immunologist with NYU Langone Health and Allergy & Asthma Network, tells Parents.com that inhalation triggering an allergic reaction is "very rare, thankfully, but there have been reported cases. Asthmatics are especially at risk."

She recommends that parents abstain from cooking or baking foods that a child may be allergic to. "We cannot predict allergen exposure and every child has different levels of severity," Dr. Parikh says. "If you must, probably best to do in a separate area that is well ventilated and cleaned as reactions from contact/touch also can occur. Also, accidental ingestion and cross contamination is an even bigger risk. Most families I know do not keep the food at home at all for that reason."

If an allergic reaction does occur, she recommends using "an epinephrine injector first and foremost, as it is the only medicine that saves lives and timing matters. Do not hesitate to also call 911 for help."