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.
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.
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.
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.
Tips for Allergies to Food
• 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.
Making an appointment with Dr. Chacko can give you peace of mind that you have received an accurate diagnosis and treatment plan for an allergy to food. Stay informed about allergies and their reactions by continuing to receive education about the illness. Remember, that with a severe allergy, eating even a small amount or being exposed to cooking utensils used on foods that cause reactions, can be dangerous. Stay alert and prepared to reduce your chance of a reaction.