Food allergies are a major health concern for about 15 million Americans (1). Thus, it’s pretty likely that you or someone you know suffers from a food allergy. If you have food allergies, it’s important to learn as much as you can about them. By taking control of your health and advocating for the health of your family, you become a true Health Hero™.
What Are Food Allergies?
There are many food-related disorders, including food allergies and intolerances. A food intolerance is usually limited to digestive issues, whereas an immune system reaction causes a food allergy that affects organs outside the digestive system. Food intolerances are not generally serious. In fact, someone with a food intolerance can even eat a little bit of the offending food and experience little or no trouble. Digestive aids can help avoid an adverse reaction to food the body doesn’t tolerate well.
Food allergies differ in that the body mistakenly attacks broken-down food proteins as enemies. And if you suffer a food allergy, even the tiniest food protein can result in a severe allergic reaction. During one of these attacks, your immune system produces an antibody called immunoglobulin E (IgE). It’s these IgE antibodies that release the chemicals that signal an allergic reaction. You may hear your doctor refer to food allergies as “IgE mediated” (1).
People can experience reactions to a range of food allergens. Pretty much any food can cause an allergic reaction. However, a small number of foods are responsible for the majority of allergic reactions (2). The most common food allergens are:
- Tree nuts
- Sesame seeds (2)
Food allergies affect the skin and gastrointestinal tract (stomach and bowels). They can reduce your ability to breathe and even impact heart function. Although some reactions are mild, a severe allergic reaction, called anaphylaxis, can be life threatening. In fact, food allergies often cause a trip to the ER.
How Are Food Allergies Diagnosed?
If you suspect a food allergy, as a Health Hero™, you should seek medical attention right away. Self-diagnosis is usually a bad idea. You may make unnecessary changes to your diet, resulting in poor nutrition. This is especially harmful when it comes to diagnosing your kids.
An allergist will perform a variety of tests to identify your allergies. Both the skin prick test and a standard blood test measure the presence of IgE antibodies when specific foods are introduced (5). These can both result in false positives, but they are helpful when combined with additional tests.
The oral food challenge is highly accurate in diagnosing food allergies, but it can cause a serious reaction, so it should be performed in a qualified medical facility (6). Another approach to diagnosing your food allergies is to follow a trial elimination diet.
How Are Allergic Reactions Treated?
What happens if you are allergic to a particular food? Symptoms may appear within minutes to hours after eating the suspect food (3). Mild symptoms can usually be treated with antihistamines or oral or topical steroids (7). These symptoms include:
- Hives, a rash, or eczema
- Redness of skin (especially around the eyes)
- Itchy mouth
- Nausea or vomiting
- Abdominal pain
- Nasal congestion or runny nose
- Coughing (3)
It is important to note that severe symptoms—alone or in combination with mild symptoms—can be a sign of anaphylaxis (3). These include:
- Swelling of the lips, tongue, and throat
- Trouble swallowing
- Shortness of breath
- Blue face, fingers, or toes
- Faintness, confusion, or weakness
- Loss of consciousness
- Chest pain
- Weak pulse (3)
Anaphylaxis is a life-threatening allergic reaction that is more likely with allergies to peanuts, tree nuts, fish, and shellfish (7). Symptoms may appear instantly and include abdominal pain, diarrhea, difficulty breathing or swallowing, hives, nausea, heart palpitations, dizziness, swelling, and unconsciousness (4). Anaphylaxis is an emergency condition, so a person who has a known food allergy will usually keep medicine on hand. Epinephrine is the only drug that can reverse symptoms. It is prescribed for use at the first sign of a reaction, usually in the form of an auto-injector like the EpiPen (7).
How Does One Live with Food Allergies?
Managing food allergies is extra difficult for children. If your child suffers from food allergies, teach him or her what you learn about the condition. Make reading labels or asking about ingredients a habit. Always tote your EpiPen and wear emergency medical ID jewelry. Practice making healthy decisions, be safe, and most importantly, be prepared.
- Food allergies occur when your immune system mistakes certain food as an enemy and initiates an allergic reaction.
- Fifteen million people in American suffer from food allergies.
- A severe allergic reaction is called anaphylaxis and is considered an emergency condition.
- Only the drug epinephrine can reverse the symptoms of an allergic reaction.
- If you suffer from a food allergy, keep your emergency medication on you at all times.
Friend, please make healthy living a part of everyday and as always, the light in me honors the light in you. Namaste.
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