Imagine living in this world without having your full cream cappuccinos, hazelnut croissants, or seafood paella. You can’t, can you? For around 2 million+ people in the UK these foods are not an option. Food allergy is an immune system reaction that occurs soon after eating a certain food and can cause severe symptoms or even a life-threatening reaction known as anaphylaxis.
Food allergies are a growing public health issue that affect both children and adults. Globally, as many as 250 million people may suffer from food allergies with most people allergic to one to three foods. Milk, egg, and peanut contribute to the highest number of allergic reactions in children—while peanuts, tree nuts, and seafood are the top contributing allergens in adults and teens.
Food allergies have a wide variety of symptoms, which may involve the skin, gastrointestinal tract, cardiovascular system, and respiratory tract. Common symptoms include nausea, vomiting, wheezing, coughing, rash, itching/ tingling and turning very pale.
In rare cases, people can also suffer from Anaphylaxis - a rare, but serious, life-threatening allergic reaction that impairs breathing and sends the body into a state of shock. Symptoms of anaphylaxis may include loss of consciousness, a drop in blood pressure, and severe shortness of breath. Anyone experiencing anaphylaxis symptoms should call his or her local emergency number immediately.
Diagnosing a food allergy
An allergic reaction to food can be severe, so it is important to consult a medical professional to find out if a reaction was caused by an intolerance or by an allergy, and to decide on appropriate management. Do not diagnose a food allergy on your own. Self-diagnosis can lead to unnecessary dietary restrictions and inadequate nutrition, especially in children.
Food allergy vs food intolerance
Food allergies and food intolerances have many similar symptoms, but they are not the same. A person could easily mistake the one for the other and in so doing wrongfully self-diagnose themselves. But knowing the difference can save your life.
Food allergies are the body’s immune system reacting to something that is normally harmless to most people, such as the proteins in milk, eggs, or nuts. A food intolerance, or sensitivity, happens when you experience difficulty digesting a particular food, hence causing nausea or an upset stomach. Unlike an allergy, which is only in response to a protein, a food intolerance can occur due to proteins, chemicals, or carbohydrates in foods. It can also sometimes be due to a lack of enzymes or compromised intestinal permeability.
Rise in food allergy admissions
In the last decade, there has been a huge increase in hospital emergency departments for anaphylaxis admissions. Today, more children and adults are being diagnosed with food allergies, to foods that were previously safe for them to eat. Food allergy continues to attract attention at a public health level and in the media.
There are theories for the rise in food allergies, including changes in eating habits in Western nations, but these are just theories.
There is no cure for food allergies. The best way to avoid allergic reactions is to steer clear of the foods that cause them – not only not eating them, but not inhaling them, touching them or cooking with the same utensils.
Oral immunotherapy is a relatively new and investigative way to manage food allergies. It involves giving the person increasing amounts of an allergen to increase the threshold that triggers a reaction. Oral immunotherapy is not available for all foods, but the Food and Drug Administration (FDA)Trusted Source have approved a treatment for peanut allergy, called Palforzia.
This month we celebrated Food Allergy Awareness week – encouraging people to become more educated on food allergies and highlighting the importance of reading food and drink labels carefully. Even some soaps, pet foods, glues, and adhesives may have traces of a food allergen.
Be vigilant when eating out, be aware of your triggers, do your research and always keep your medication close by to avoid anaphylactic attacks and hospital admissions.