Special Diets For Food Allergies
A food allergy is caused when the body's immune system mistakes an ingredient in food, typically a protein, as harmful and creates a defense system to fight it. An allergic reaction occurs when the antibodies are battling an invading food protein. Although a person can have an allergic reaction to almost any food, there are several foods in general which cause all food related allergic reactions. These foods include milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, fish, shellfish, soy, and wheat.
Peanut allergy affects approximately 1 million people in the United States alone. As the most common cause of life threatening allergic reactions, peanut allergies account for 80 percent of fatal or near fatal allergic reactions each year. The risk of having an allergic reaction may be reduced by knowing as much as possible about peanut allergy and how to avoid peanut containing products. Tests may be administered to help diagnose peanut allergy so it is vital to take steps to avoid future and potentially worse reactions. Common food products that can trigger peanut allergy symptoms include peanut butter, peanut flour, and ground or mixed nuts, along with several others.
Avoidance is the only true treatment for food allergy. Neither allergy shots nor oral desensitization have proven to be a safe or effective way in reducing food allergy. An individual may be allergic to any food, such as vegetables, fruits, and meats there are eight particular foods which account for the majority of all food allergic reactions. These particular foods are milk, peanut, fish, egg, tree nut, shellfish, soy, and wheat. Allergic reactions to certain foods typically begin within minutes to a few hours after eating the food.
Food allergies are typically treated by avoiding the offending allergen in the diet. Once a food to which the patient is sensitive has been identified, the food must be removed from the diet. To do this, patients need to read a lengthy and detailed list of ingredients on the label for each food they consider eating. Many allergy producing foods such as eggs, peanuts, and milk appear in foods that are not ordinarily associated with them. Patients with severe food allergies must be prepared to treat an anaphylactic reaction. These individuals should carry a syringe of adrenaline, or epinephrine, obtained by prescription from their doctors and be prepared to self administer it if they think they are developing an allergic reaction. They should then seek immediate medical help by either calling 911 or having themselves transported to an emergency room.
Diagnosing a food allergy can be a challenge for most doctors. First the doctor must determine if the patient is having an adverse reaction to specific foods. The doctor makes this assessment with the help of a detailed history from the patient, the patient's dietary diary, or an elimination diet. The doctor then confirms the diagnosis by the more objective skin tests, blood tests, or food challenges. The dietary history is the most important diagnostic tool. The physician interviews the patient to determine if the facts are consistent with a food allergy. If the patient's history, dietary diary, or elimination diet suggests that a specific food allergy is likely, the doctor will then use tests, such as skin tests, blood tests, and a food challenge, which can more objectively confirm an allergic response to food.
FAQs Regarding Food Allergies
When it comes to food allergies, there are no black and white rules to follow simply because no one has the exact same type of allergy. Therefore, a lot of questions are likely on the subject. Listed below are the top frequently asked questions (FAQs) regarding food allergies:
1. What is a food allergy? A food allergy is caused by an immunological response to something you have eaten that the body believes to be hazardous. In turn, the body will produce antibodies specific to combating that particular harmful food agent releasing histamines and other substances. The result is a physical manifestation such symptoms displayed on the skin, respiratory system, cardiovascular system and even the digestive system.
2. What are the typical symptoms and signs of a food allergy reaction? Mild symptoms may include a rash, minor mouth irritation, itchy eyes and diarrhea. Other symptoms that can also occur are more bothersome and at turns, very serious such as tongue and throat swelling, breathing difficulty, nausea and vomiting, blood pressure dropping and even unconsciousness. Some symptoms are almost instantaneous while others develop over the course of several hours.
3. Does a cure exist for any type of food allergy? The answer to this question is an unfortunate no. Avoiding that trigger food altogether is the best way to prevent a reaction although there are medications that can alleviate symptoms. Luckily for many children with food allergies, they eventually grow out of them as their body and immune response matures.
4. How do you treat a food allergy itself? As mentioned above, avoiding the foods that trigger allergic reactions is the best treatment. You need to become well-versed in reading food labels and recognizing the many terms related to those food triggers. You will have to become adept at questioning the restaurants in which you dine to ensure no contamination occurs when it comes to your food allergies.
5. Can you treat the symptoms of the food allergy for relief? The answer to this one is yes. For rashes and hives, there are over the counter as well as prescription creams that can alleviate the itching and swelling of the skin. Anti-histamine medications work well for minor swelling of the respiratory system as well as your mouth and tongue. For the severest food allergies where the minutest exposure is life threatening, epinephrine (a type of adrenaline) may be necessary. It is often prescribed by doctors and is something that you should always carry around, usually in a syringe or pen form.
6. Should I nix the foods I believe are causing the problem? This is a trick question somewhat. Your best bet would be to keep a food diary logging everything you consume (including liquids and spices you use) and present your findings and best guess for possible food culprits to your doctor. This will give them a launching point to start testing you for food hyper sensitivities.
7. Are food intolerance and food allergies the same thing? The answer is no. Food intolerances occur because your body lacks a certain enzyme for digestion and the result is gas, indigestion, stomach pain and more. However, a food allergy triggers your immune response thus causing physical problems and potential life-threatening situations. With food intolerance, once the food leaves your system, you are fine.
Symptoms That Signal You May Have A Food Allergy
Millions of people have allergies that come and go with the season and are usually blamed on pollen, grass and a host of other environmental factors. These allergies are easy to spot because they produce symptoms such as sneezing and itchy, watery eyes that are rather obvious. However, what if you or a loved one had a food allergy? Would you necessarily know what symptoms or signs to look for?
It is interesting to note that some of the symptoms of a food allergy can also be reproduced via other means. Therefore it is important to be attuned to your body and recognize sudden or gradual (a few hours) onset of symptoms and their possible ties to food. Here are some of those symptoms and signs you should watch for that may signal an allergic reaction to food:
1. Tingling, Swelling and Redness - Certain foods trigger an allergic reaction almost immediately while others creep up slowly. Allergies are a primary cause of swelling and redness and you can find this occurrence on the face as well as around the mouth areas. Tingling could also occur anywhere where the food culprit came in contact with skin. Egg products and shellfish like crab and shrimp can cause these symptoms.
2. Hives and Rashes - It is important to note that hives and rashes are not only caused by allergic reactions to food. Medications and environmental concerns can also cause them. Everyone knows what rashes are; hives are like a raised version of a rash and could appear bumpy and sometimes will itch. Therefore, it is important to clue into what you were doing in the time leading up to the appearance of hives or rashes to try and discern the cause, whether it is food or something else.
3. Stomach Upset - Dairy is the biggest contributor to constipation, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea in food allergy sufferers. Of course, in some cases, it is actually food intolerance rather than an actual allergy. Only a doctor and proper testing can definitively tell for sure. Many people are gluten or lactose intolerance and similar symptoms can occur.
4. Runny or Drippy Nose - Sometimes called hay fever or allergic rhinitis, these symptoms are often attributed to environmental factors like high pollen or mold counts in the air. However, certain food allergies like those to eggs or dairy can produce the same symptoms. Only with allergy testing, such as the scratch tests, can the primary cause of the symptoms be known. Of course, if it is the dead of winter when pollen and mold counts are low and you have the symptoms, chances are good in pinpointing a food allergy!
5. Anaphylactic Shock - This is the most serious symptom of food allergies and can be fatal if not treated immediately. Luckily, anaphylaxis is not common but those with the severest of allergies can get it. The entire body reacts to a food allergen and its response is a drop in blood pressure and swelling of the respiratory passageways which causes breathing difficulty. People with severe food allergies often have to carry epinephrine in an injectable form like the EpiPen with them everywhere in case of emergency.