Food allergies are quite common – millions of people across the globe suffer from food allergies. They can be mild or extremely severe.
A food allergy occurs when your immune system goes into overdrive when it comes into contact with a particular food or a particular compound/protein in a food. The body perceives the substance as a threat – this is a defense mechanism. Food allergies can happen to anyone and at any age.
Current statistics reveal that 6%-8% of children (0-3 years) are affected by a food allergy. 3% of all adults are allergic to some kind of food.
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Food allergies and food intolerance are often confused. However, they are not the same.
Food intolerance is simply inconvenient most of the time. It is not a life-threatening condition, and the immune system is never triggered. On the other hand, a food allergy can be fatal.
Food allergies manifest differently from person to person. Also, food allergy symptoms may vary from episode to episode. Your skin, cardiovascular system, gastrointestinal tract, and respiratory systems can be affected by a food allergy. It is difficult to predict how serious your next allergic reaction may be.
Food allergy symptoms can manifest rapidly (seconds or minutes) after consuming the food allergen. Here are some of the symptoms that may be experienced:
The complication that causes the most concern is Anaphylaxis. The symptoms usually occur quickly. They are as follows:
Anaphylaxis requires emergency medical care, and an epi-pen needs to be administered as soon as possible. Anaphylaxis can result in death.
You can find out exactly what foods you are allergic to by having a food allergy test done. A doctor will administer the test.
Your doctor will ask you a series of questions regarding your symptoms and your food exposure history.
The two tests that are usually administered are the skin-prick test and a blood test. Additionally, the doctor may also put you on a food elimination diet in order to help isolate the food that you are allergic to.
The possible allergen is placed on the skin and observed for a reaction. A standardized amount (usually a drop) is administered to the forearm. The skin is then pierced to facilitate the reaction.
If you experience any itchiness, swelling, or redness in the test area, this will be considered a positive response.
You may experience mild discomfort, but most patients tolerate the procedure with no issues. There is no bleeding. If you are allergic to the food substance, you will experience minor irritation in the test area.
The skin-prick test may not be suitable for everyone.
The following groups are not ideal candidates for the skin-prick test:
·Persons who have experienced life-threatening allergic responses in the past
·Persons who suffer from severe eczema and psoriasis. (Most likely unable to stop oral antihistamines to facilitate the test)
The IgE blood test is a better fit for these patients.
The IgE blood test detects specific IgE antibodies. One blood test can be used to identify several types of allergens. You don’t need to make any special preparations the day before you take the test. The results are usually ready in about a week’s time.
Current data shows that food allergy occurrence has increased significantly in the last five years. There is no concrete evidence to explain why this has happened. However, dietary changes over the last 3-4 decades could be the cause.
An alternative theory is the hygiene hypothesis. This theory purports that today children are raised in a sterile environment. As such the immune system does not develop as it should since they were not exposed to germs in early childhood. When the person is exposed as an adult, there is a high possibility of developing an allergy.
Sometimes members of the same family share common allergies. However, there is no concrete evidence that children will inherit their parent’s food allergies.
Some studies show that the younger siblings of a child who suffers from a peanut allergy will also develop the same allergy.
This is not recommended. If you had a mild reaction in the past, there are no guarantees that you cannot develop a more severe allergic reaction in the future. Each allergic episode is different. As time goes by, an allergic reaction can become more serious.
However, you should also be aware that not all persons experiencing symptoms are suffering from a food allergy. For instance, if your throat or mouth feels itchy after eating unripe fruit or vegetables, you may be reacting to pollen. This is called oral allergy syndrome.
Here, the immune system has identified the pollen as an allergen and triggers an allergic response to it. In this case, if you heat the food, the allergen is eliminated, and it is highly unlikely that you will experience any issues after that.
If you can’t tolerate a particular food, you may feel sick to your stomach. An allergic reaction is often more severe in nature.
Food intolerance provokes a digestive system response. It directly affects your ability to break down your food successfully. Food intolerance is usually caused by sensitivity to food additives, certain chemicals, or enzyme deficiencies. Usually, small quantities can be consumed without experiencing any adverse symptoms.
Food allergy elicits an immune system response. Your immune system springs into action, for instance, if you are allergic to peanuts. It perceives this food as an intruder. Your immune system starts producing immunoglobulin E (IgE) which are antibodies to combat the foreign substance that has entered the body.
These antibodies work by activating the cells in the body that trigger an allergic response. Each category of IgE that the body produces reacts to a particular allergen.
A food allergic reaction can be triggered by contact (touched, eaten, or inhaled) with trace amounts of the allergen.
Symptoms can be categorized as follows:
- Skin symptoms- Swelling, hives, or itching.
- Gastrointestinal symptoms- Diarrhea and/or vomiting.
- Respiratory symptoms-Wheezing or coughing
You may experience a combination of any of the above-mentioned symptoms.
While any food has the potential to be an allergen, some foods are notorious for triggering allergic reactions:
- Certain fruits and vegetables
- Tree nuts
Yes, adults can suffer from food allergies. Even though food allergies are often identified during childhood, they can persist when you become an adult.
Food allergies in adults often go undiagnosed since nausea and diarrhea are also symptoms of food poisoning. Often people ignore their symptoms and do not seek medical help. This is dangerous because most times you keep consuming the errant food. The scenario has the potential to become life-threatening.
Oral allergy syndrome or pollen-food syndrome is also a condition that can affect adults. It is usually sparked by allergens in raw vegetables, fruits, and tree nuts cross-reacting. Be reminded that this is not a food allergy but a pollen allergy.
The symptoms of oral allergen syndrome are swelling and/or itching of the mouth, tongue, and lips. These symptoms do not last very long since the cross-reacting allergens are soon digested. The rest of the body is unaffected.
This kind of reaction often helps make a distinction between an oral allergy and a bona fide food allergy.
Yes, you can outgrow food allergies. Children are likely to outgrow allergies to soy, milk, wheat, and eggs.
According to current research, about 25% of children no longer suffer from peanut allergies by the time they reach adulthood. Fewer children outgrow their tree nut allergies. However, parents can still remain hopeful; a child’s allergy does not necessarily have to be permanent.
If you develop an allergy as an adult, you will most likely have it for the rest of your life.
There is no data to support that a food allergen can become airborne and trigger an allergic reaction. However, there have been a few cases where people developed symptoms while fish was being cooked, but generally severe symptoms are only experienced when the food is actually consumed.
Peanut allergy sufferers are often very nervous about the possibility of encountering peanut dust, especially on planes.
Most of the time, allergic reactions only arise if the person touches a surface contaminated with peanut dust.
Once surfaces are properly sanitized on planes and counters, the threat of an allergic reaction is significantly reduced.
Yes, it is possible for allergenic particles to be left behind on objects and surfaces if they have not been properly sanitized.
If you come into contact with a contaminated surface, you may develop a rash at the point of contact on your skin.
However, once you have not swallowed the allergen, your chances of additional reactions are very low.
The likelihood of a severe allergic reaction is negligible. In order to prevent a rash, you need only wash the area with soap.
It is a common myth that you can have a severe allergic episode by touching an object without actual food consumption. However, several studies have confirmed that simply washing your hands with water and soap as well as cleaning surfaces with detergent will completely eliminate the allergen.
However, gel-based alcohol hand sanitizers do not remove the allergen from your skin.
Gluten is a particular kind of protein that is found in barley, wheat, and rye. It is important to note that while some people are allergic to wheat, it does not mean that they have a gluten allergy. Celiac disease and wheat allergy are frequently mistaken for gluten allergy.
So, what you may not know is, there is no such thing as a gluten allergy. However, celiac disease is a potentially life-threatening digestive problem that requires appropriate treatment. Symptoms of celiac disease are as follows:
- Severe diarrhea or rash after consuming gluten products
- Abdominal discomfort
- Failure to gain weight
- Significant weight loss
A board-certified gastroenterologist is the only medical professional who should diagnose and treat a serious condition like celiac disease. The most effective method of treatment is to avoid gluten. Gluten intolerance does not constitute an allergy either.
Persons exhibiting the above-mentioned symptoms should be tested for celiac disease. However, most patients who are gluten intolerant do not also have celiac disease. If you believe that you are suffering from gluten intolerance, please make an appointment for food allergy testing in Singapore as soon as possible.
There is no cure for a food allergy; as such it must be managed throughout your life. However, you can go about your daily routine without issues if you follow some practical guidelines:
- Carefully check the labels on your food before buying. If there are no labels, ask before you consume the food.
- Find out what your food allergens are and avoid them
- During pregnancy or while breastfeeding stay away from a restrictive diet.
- Always carry an emergency epi-pen.
The only way to effectively manage a food allergy is to first undergo food allergy testing so that you know what you are allergic to.
From there you can take the necessary steps to prevent an allergic episode. Once you put certain measures in place and adhere to them diligently you will be able to effectively manage your food allergies.
Once managed, food allergies do not have to affect your quality of life.
If you believe that you are suffering from food allergies and are experiencing any of the symptoms mentioned above, we encourage you to discuss with your doctor regarding food allergy testing.