Food Allergies – When Things We Eat Make Us Sick!
A General Overview
We are all in agreement that food is vital for life. Food sustains and energizes us. A balanced diet provides nutrients to keep our bodies functioning in tip-top health.
Food is our friend, right? Well, most of the time it is — and for most people — but there are instances where certain foods become the enemy for some susceptible individuals.
You may be one of those unfortunate souls, or you may know of someone who, having eating a particular food or foods, very quickly experiences extremely unpleasant and debilitating symptoms. In some cases, eating the food could prove fatal.
Approximately three to four percent of all adults have a food allergy.
People who develop allergies to particular foods have an extremely heightened sensitivity to their trigger foods. They do not even have to eat a large amount of the food for the allergic reaction to occur. Just the smallest morsel on the tip of the tongue will trigger an allergic reaction.
Food Allergies in Children
Typically, children are identified as being allergic to certain foods by the time they reach the age of five. Roughly six to eight percent of all minors are allergic to certain foods. Some lucky children, but not all, tend to outgrow their allergies when they reach adulthood. However, tree nuts and peanut allergies usually persist.
Did you know that you could suddenly develop an allergy to a food or foods that you have previously eaten quite safely? Such is the nature of food allergies: they can arise at any point and at any age.
As an aside: a distinction should be made between a true food allergy and its less serious cousin, food intolerance. Food allergy impacts the immune system. As such, it affects many organs within the body, setting off a variety of symptoms. By contrast, food intolerance generally affects the digestive system only, and the symptoms are typically less serious.
A food allergy causes your immune system to over-react to a specific protein that is found in your particular trigger food. Your immune system is actually trying to protect you but, in so doing, it causes a whole cascade of allergic symptoms.
Be aware that the offending protein/s in your trigger food may also be found in other foods and things. For example, a protein in ragweed is also found in melons and bananas.
Thus, if you are allergic to ragweed, you could also experience an allergic reaction to those particular fruit. No one said food allergy was uncomplicated!
Common Triggers of Food Allergy
Of course, there are always exceptions to any rule, but there is a rather small group of foods that are responsible for the majority of allergies. You might find that surprising, given the huge variety of foodstuff available for human consumption. Nevertheless, the main trigger foods are:
- Tree nuts: for example, pecans and walnuts
- Shellfish and mollusks
- Milk — typically cow’s milk
Taken together, these foods comprise 90 percent of all food allergies.
Symptoms of Food Allergy
Food allergy causes mild to extremely severe symptoms. The symptoms typically appear within two hours of eating the offending food. It is not possible to predict how mild or severe a reaction will be.
The allergic reaction will usually manifest itself via your skin, your gastrointestinal tract, your respiratory tract or your cardiovascular system.
Milder symptoms include:
- Changes in skin color: paleness, redness or blue skin
- Itchy skin
- Watery eyes
- Excessive coughing
- Runny nose or stuffiness
- Abdominal discomfort
More severe symptoms include:
- Tightness in the throat
- Breathing difficulties/wheezing
- Tingling in your lips, hands, feet or scalp
- Weak pulse
- Anaphylaxis: in this case, a severe food allergy causes whole-body, life-threatening reactions that send the body into shock. When this occurs, immediate medical attention is vital.
Treatment and Management of Food Allergies
Food allergy treatments should begin with a proper diagnosis at an allergy clinic by a Board Certified allergist. Once the allergy has been identified, it goes without saying that the best treatment is avoidance of the trigger food.
There are times, though, when it is impossible to avoid the allergen. When severe symptoms develop, the mainstay of food allergy treatments is epinephrine injections. Speak to your allergist about the auto-injector. You may need to keep epinephrine with you at all times.
There may be other medications/food allergy treatments that your allergist can suggest. He or she will review your full medical history and the extent of your food allergy so as to determine the best course of treatment.
Ways to Manage Your Allergies
- Be super vigilant when eating out: As a food allergy sufferer, we know you understand how important it is to identify which foods cause your allergic reactions. You need to be your own detective and ask the food server or the chef about the ingredients used, and the possibility of any cross-contamination of your particular allergen/s in the kitchen. This approach is not fool-proof, however. Sometimes they will not know.
- Read food labels carefully, so as to avoid your specific triggers.
- Learn about cross-reactivity. This is very important, and your allergist can provide greater details.
To date, there are no cures for allergies caused by food. By consulting a qualified and experienced food allergist, you can gain a greater understanding of your particular food allergy. An allergist can help you learn how to avoid the trigger proteins that cause your symptoms, and how best to manage any symptoms that may arise.