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Among the various types of allergies impacting adults and children across Atlanta, food allergies are some of the most prevalent and severe. In fact, an estimated 15 million Americans have food allergies, with around 150–200 people losing their lives each year due to severe reactions. And with food allergies being a major cause of chronic illness, it’s important to consult with an allergist at the first signs of an issue.
What Are Food Allergies?
Millions of Americans have food allergies. A food allergy is when food triggers a harmful immune response. The degree of the response can vary from mild, hives and itchy mouth, to severe, difficulty breathing and throat tightening. The most serious allergic reaction is anaphylaxis, which is a sudden onset and can result in death.
Allergies to food occur when the immune system attacks proteins in food that are harmless to people without allergies. More than 700 types of food have been reported to cause allergic reactions. There are eight major categories of food allergens, tree nuts, milk, peanut, egg, wheat, soy, fish, and crustaceans.
Here are some of the most common food allergies Dr. Chacko treats at his 6 Atlanta-area allergy treatment centers.
Egg allergies are a common type of food allergy that typically affects babies and young children. As a result of an undeveloped digestive system, children can be prone to allergic reactions after eating egg whites, yolks and products containing egg proteins. Thankfully, most children grow out of an egg allergy, though this process can take many years.
At Chacko Allergy, Asthma and Sinus Center, we provide reliable egg allergy treatments to limit the impact of the allergy. With the threat of severe allergies and anaphylaxis, it is important that parents consult with an allergist at the first signs of an issue.
Milk allergies are most common in children and are usually caused by proteins in cow’s milk. Symptoms usually begin almost immediately after milk consumption, and may include swelling and tingling of the mouth, lips and throat, stomach pains and skin hives. At Chacko Allergy, Asthma and Sinus Center, we provide milk allergy treatments for children and adults to prevent severe reactions and improve a patient’s quality of life.
Before conducting any food allergy testing, Dr. Chacko will discuss a patient’s symptoms and medical history. A clear diagnosis makes it possible to tackle a milk allergy effectively, and this includes the option of food desensitization through oral immunotherapy treatment.
Oral Allergy Syndrome
Patients with oral allergy syndrome (OAS) experience itching of the mouth and throat after eating certain fruits or vegetables. The allergic reaction is caused by cross-reactivity between pollen and fruits and vegetables. The immune system confuses the proteins from foods like apples or celery with pollen, and releases chemicals to counteract the perceived threat.
Dr. Chacko helps people manage their symptoms with oral allergy syndrome treatment. In mild cases, avoiding allergenic foods or cooking these foods can be the best options for preventing allergic reactions. However, after a consultation at one of our Atlanta area allergy centers, antihistamines or epinephrine may also be recommended to help prevent OAS symptoms or reactions.
Peanut allergies can be responsible for some of the most severe allergic reactions. In some cases, those with peanut allergies may experience anaphylaxis and require emergency treatment. Anyone who shows symptoms after eating peanuts – including skin issues, stomach problems, breathing complaints or an anaphylactic episode – should undergo testing and peanut allergy treatments.
Dr. Chacko works with patients to develop effective personalized treatments that limit the impact of their allergies. As peanuts are found in many products (including in unintentional trace amounts), accidental exposure is common. Using targeted treatment that involves antihistamines, corticosteroids and oral immunotherapy treatment makes it possible to reduce allergy symptoms and guard against anaphylaxis.
Diagnosing a Food Allergy
If you suspect you or someone in your family has a food allergy, make an appointment with your doctor immediately. Be prepared to answer questions about the pattern of the symptoms such as how long did it take for the symptoms to start after the exposure to food. You will be asked how long the symptoms lasted and about the severity.
Keep a careful record of what food was involved how much of it was consumed. If there is other important information about the patient’s medical history, this should be shared as well. Such information would include any other allergies or allergic conditions, history of allergies in the family.
Once the history has been taken, a diagnosis can be made. Allergy skin tests are one way to determine what foods trigger an allergic reaction. Skin testing is performed by taking a small extraction of food and placing it on the back or arm. If a hive or bump develops within 20 minutes, this may indicate an allergy.
If a patient has severe eczema, the skin allergy test cannot be used. The doctor may suggest an IgE blood test. It is possible that false-positive results will occur with both skin and blood tests. Test results can confirm test results and should be done in a medical setting in the case of a severe reaction. Food tests should never be done at home.
How the Food Allergy Testing Process Works
- Skin prick testing – Skin prick testing is the most common food allergy test, with results delivered in as little as 15 minutes. The skin hive or bump produced by a positive result develops when the allergen activates IgE antibodies on the skin’s mast cells.
- Blood testing – Blood testing requires a sample of blood to be extracted and sent to a laboratory. The lab will analyze for the presence of certain antibodies that indicate a specific food allergy.
- Food challenge testing – Food challenge tests require an extended period of time at your allergist’s office, but they are useful when skin and blood tests are inconclusive. The process requires a patient to consume small amounts of an allergen at specified intervals to monitor for allergic symptoms.
Treatment of Food Allergies
There are innovative treatments being developed for the treatment of food allergies, however, there are currently no cures. The key to managing allergies to food are avoidance, preparedness, and education. People who have severe reactions to certain foods should always carry auto-injectable epinephrine in case of an anaphylactic reaction.
For less intense reactions to food, a food elimination diet can be conducted under the supervision of a physician. In a food elimination diet, the food which might have been responsible is taken out of the patient’s diet for 2 to 6 weeks.
If no symptoms occur after the food is removed but return when the food is reintroduced, this suggests an allergy or intolerance to that food. Don’t attempt a food elimination diet without consulting a qualified health professional.
Oral immunotherapy treatment (OIT) is currently the only solution for food allergies that allows the ongoing consumption of the allergen. This process is also known as desensitization, as it introduces the allergen at small, manageable levels over time. With a gradual increase in dosage, the immune system builds a tolerance to the presence of the allergen.
While it takes many months to achieve a maintenance level, OIT can play a crucial role for anyone in danger of experiencing a severe allergic reaction. Did you know that most allergic reactions tend to occur outside of the home? This includes settings such as restaurants, schools, children’s parties and so on. By desensitizing the body to an allergen, the risk of anaphylaxis will be reduced.
Food Allergies Can Be Outgrown
Many children outgrow allergies to milk, soy, egg, and wheat even when their reactions to those foods were severe. Allergies to fish, tree nuts and shellfish tend to last through adulthood. Have your child tested by an allergist on a regular basis to determine the current status of an allergy to a specific food.
Top Tips for Managing Food Allergies
- When there is a known allergy to food, make sure when you are eating out or even at a friend’s house, ask about the ingredients before any food is consumed.
- Read food labels carefully. Common food allergens are required to be listed on the label.
- Know how to use auto-injectable epinephrine and antihistamines to treat sudden reactions to food. If symptoms do occur, even if they subside, go to the emergency room. Always get a follow-up visit from your allergist.
- Consider a medical alert bracelet that describes the allergy.
Common Questions About Food Allergies
What are the most common food allergies affecting children?
The most common food allergies affecting children are eggs, milk and peanuts. Tree nuts, fish and shellfish are also a source of allergic reactions in kids. However, it is possible to be allergic to almost any food substance, so pay attention to allergy symptoms after eating.
How long does the oral immunotherapy process take?
Oral immunotherapy usually takes around 6–12 months to reach the maintenance level. Patients will then continue to eat the food to maintain tolerance. OIT may take longer when multiple allergies are being targeted.
Are there any medications available for food allergies?
An allergist may recommend certain medications for food allergies, such as antihistamines. It’s also important to carry an epinephrine auto-injector in case of emergency.
Get an Effective Food Allergy Treatment Plan in Atlanta and Beyond
Are you experiencing the symptoms of a food allergy? At Chacko Allergy, Asthma and Sinus Center, we have helped patients of all ages manage their allergies using proven treatment plans. Visit us at one of our centers in Alpharetta, Atlanta, Canton, Cumming, Duluth and Johns Creek. Call (678) 668-4688 or make an appointment now.