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Information and diagnosis of food allergies have been on the rise in the last several years. In December 2010, the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) created guidelines to help medical practitioners diagnose and treat food allergies. This week Medscape, an online medical research tool for doctors, released a video article on how to use the NIAID guidelines to more accurately differentiate between food allergies and other chronic illnesses that have similar symptoms.
One important distinction is the difference between food allergies and food sensitivities. Sensitivities can be a transient problem that doesn’t create a lasting potentially dangerous immune response. A person can develop multiple sensitivities with only one food being the direct cause of the symptoms. Sensitization to a food doesn’t always progress to a food allergy.
Food allergies can be difficult to diagnose and the guideline discuss lab testing which is somewhat helpful but must be used in combination with a thorough history and an elimination challenge diet to get the most accurate understanding of the allergy. This is the training that I, and every other doctor that attended naturopathic medical school, received. It is pleasing to me that the more conventional medical community and the naturopathic community are in agreement about how to proceed when diagnosing and treating food allergies. The treatment for food allergies is the same too – avoidance of the offending food or foods. I know that is disappointing for the people who love ice cream and have a dairy allergy. The truth is that for people that have food allergies their immune system treats the offending food the same it would treat the bubonic plague--like a foreign substance that is doing harm in the body. It is for that reason avoidance is the best option. If you knew there were particles of bubonic plague on your cheese sandwich would you still eat it? Incidence of food allergies are on the rise so people should consider if they are feeling poorly often that it might be due to something they have eaten. Perhaps it is a food allergy that is causing the problem.