Having food allergies is tough! My son, at 3 years old, is already understanding that his body is different. For people who don’t know where to begin or people who are just curious, here is some information to get you started.
Let’s Talk about Food Allergies…
Some interesting facts:
- Eczema, allergies and asthma are all related. They are all caused by overactive immune systems
- Once every 6 minutes, someone has a life-threatening allergic reaction to foods which is known as anaphylaxis
- Food allergies make someone go to the emergency room once every 3 minutes
- As many as 15 million people in the US have food allergies.
- Up to 6% of children have true food allergies.
- Many children outgrow their food allergies
- Most adults do not outgrow their food allergies
- People die of anaphylaxis
- If there is a history of asthma, a person with food allergies is much more likely to have a severe allergic reaction
What are food allergies?
Allergies are caused by an overactive immune system.
When your body is exposed to certain proteins in food, it thinks that it is being threatened by something that is actually harmless. An allergic reaction to food occurs when your body overreacts to otherwise harmless proteins in the food that you have eaten. The body overreacts by triggering an immune response to the food. Specific antibodies are then released into the blood stream which causes the release of a chemical called histamine. Histamine makes blood vessels very leaky. In severe situations, it can even make breathing airways constrict. These reactions usually occur within a few minutes to a few hours of eating the offending food.
The most common allergic reactions to foods that people have are:
- Hives – itchy red welts that often come and go
- Eczema – itchy bumpy skin rash that can appear over time.
- Other reactions include:
- Stomach aches
- Weight loss (mostly in children)
*Stomach problems can be also be caused by a food intolerance rather than an allergy.
Signs of a severe allergic reaction, known as anaphylaxis are:
- Wheezing or shortness of breath
- Throat swelling or tightness
- Swelling of the lips or tongue
- Low blood pressure – lightheadedness or feeling faint.
- Pale skin
*This type of an allergic reaction can be deadly and requires immediate medical attention.
There are several important components to diagnosing a food allergy:
- Food History – your doctor will ask for detailed information about your potential allergic reaction.
- When was the food eaten?
- How long after the food was eaten did the reaction happen?
- What kind of reaction did you have?
- How long did it last?
- What made it go away?
- Did anyone else get sick?
- Were there any other foods or medicines that were eaten or taken around the same time?
- Keep a food diary –sometimes your doctor will ask you to put together a diary of what you eat and your reactions to it. This should include answers to the questions above. A food diary is especially helpful when multiple foods could be causing the allergic reaction.
- Elimination diet – some doctors will ask you to exclude the food that may be causing the allergic reaction for some period of time. If the symptoms go away, this might be a sign of a food allergy. Under your doctor’s supervision, you may be asked to try the food again to see if in fact a reaction occurs. This is only used under certain safe circumstances like mild or moderate reactions (not severe reactions).
- Blood tests –these tests used to be called RAST (RadioAllergoSorbentTest). Most doctors now use a test called ImmunoCap Specific IG E which is more accurate. These tests measure the level of antibodies your body has to certain substances. These tests may come back positive even if you do not have an allergy to a specific food. This is why your history is really important. If there is a positive history and a positive ImmunocCap test then it is much more likely that there is a true food allergy.
- Skin tests – these tests measure whether or not your skin will actually react to the suspected food. It is also called a scratch test because the food is actually scratched into your skin. A positive test means that your skin does have a reaction to the food. This does not mean that you definitely have an allergy to that food. This is why your history is really important. If there is a positive history and a positive skin test then it is much more likely that there is a true food allergy.
The main treatment for food allergy is avoiding food that cause you allergies.
If you are diagnosed with food allergies, they will recommend that you eliminate those foods in your diet. Doctors may recommend carrying an epi pen with you depending on the severity of your reaction as well.
There are new treatments on the horizon, including oral immunotherapy for desensitization. This does not mean allergies are cured, basically, your body is exposed to very small amounts of the food protein until your body eventually gets used to it. In small trials, it has worked for peanut allergies and milk allergies. There is a skin patch that is being studied for peanut allergy desensitization. There have also been studies on placing a small amount of the protein under the tongue as well as swallowing a small amount of the protein.
Allergies are a scary thing but knowledge is power! Allergy parents everywhere are doing their best to educate not only their kids, and people who take care of their kids throughout the day, but also other parents who can help make this awarness more prevalent. By teaching others we help to keep people safe.