Food allergies are more common today than ever before. In my lifetime alone, food allergies have gone from seeming to be rather rare and unusual, to something we all either have or know someone who has. They can run the gamut from being slightly lactose intolerant to being full-blown allergic, so much so that entire school cafeterias can be “peanut-free zones”, and my own sons shake their heads, scornfully, if I pack them a granola bar for snack.
“Don’t you know, Mom, that granola bars are made in factories that also produce nut-based products? These are NOT okay in school, or even on the bus!”
I slink off with my tail between my legs contemplating the madness I’d almost engaged in.
So what is a food allergy exactly? Basically, your immune system says “no” and responds with disease fighting antibodies known as immunoglobulin E or IgE. This is a defensive reaction even though the food itself may not be poisonous or truly harmful.
Histamine is released as a result of the IgE becoming activated by the particular food or foods, and it is this histamine which can have such an intense and sometimes quite dangerous effect on the skin, cardiovascular system or gastrointestinal tract.
Some symptoms of food allergies include vomiting, rashes on the skin, bowel irritation and/or diarrhea, abdominal cramps and bloating, breathing problems, hives, tongue and or throat swelling, a tingling or irritated feeling in one’s mouth, a drop in blood pressure and in some cases, passing out or losing consciousness.
The most severe outcomes of anaphylaxis, which is the most extreme food allergy reaction, include death.
These symptoms may occur right away, or it may take up to two hours for them to manifest. Once a food allergy is known, a person is more likely to understand the subtleties of their reactions more quickly.
In some instances, the food itself can cause a rash on the skin where there is contact. In rarer cases, even the odor of a particular food can cause an allergic reaction.
Peanuts are a very common allergen these days, as are milk, eggs, tree nuts (including walnuts, almonds and pecans) and of course, seafood.
Allergy skin tests performed by your doctor can help to determine which foods are triggering your allergic reactions. There is also a blood test known as RAST which stands for radioallergosorbent blood test.
This test checks the number of antibodies your immune system produces. If certain types of these antibodies are elevated, your doctor may be able to deduce which foods are causing your allergies.
Also, keeping a sharp eye on your own symptoms (or that of a child or loved one) and writing down exactly what it is you’ve been eating is a great place to start when it comes to diagnosis. A food journal will assist you in weeding out the non-allergen foods from the allergen foods and will help you gain control of what you’ve been reacting to.
Another recommendation often given to people is to eliminate certain foods they suspect may be causing their reactions and to see if this helps reduce the symptoms.
Avoiding foods which cause allergic reactions is the most basic method of treatment for food allergies. Corticosteroids like prednisone can aid in the reduction of swelling caused by reactions.
Epinephrine injections are given immediately for life-threatening types of allergies. At this moment, that is the only truly effective way to treat a patient with such a strong reaction.
Working closely with your doctor will allow you to avoid certain foods and even become aware of which foods are processed with others that may affect you (such as in the granola bar scenario described in the beginning of this article!)
If required, your doctor will assist you in having an epi-pen available at work or at school to be administered in case of emergency.
Food Allergies. Webmd. Retrieved on October 4, 2011
The Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Network (FAAN™)
Reviewed October 5, 2011
by Michele Blacksberg RN
Edited by Jody Smith
Aimee Boyle is a regular contributor to EmpowHER