What is a food allergy?
Food allergy is a reaction of the immune system that occurs immediately after eating a particular food. Even small amounts of allergy-causing foods can lead to signs and symptoms like digestive problems, rashes, or inflammation of the airways. In some people, a food allergy can cause severe symptoms or even a life-threatening reaction called anaphylaxis. Food allergy affects 6 to 8 per cent of children under 3 years of age and 3 per cent of adults. If left untreated, some children develop food allergies as they get older. It’s easy to mistake a food allergy for a very common reaction called food intolerance. When distressing, food intolerance is a less serious condition that has no immunity.
Food allergy is a condition in which certain foods trigger an abnormal immune response. It is caused by the immune system mistakenly recognizing certain proteins in the diet as harmful. Your body then starts a variety of protective measures, including releasing chemicals like histamine, which can cause inflammation. For people with food allergies, even very small amounts of problem foods can cause an allergic reaction.
Symptoms of food allergy
For some people, an allergic reaction to a particular food can be uncomfortable but not serious. For other people, an allergic reaction to food can be scary and even life-threatening. Food allergy symptoms usually develop within a few minutes to two hours after eating an unpleasant food.
The most common food allergy signs and symptoms are:
- Tingling or itching in the mouth
- Rash, itching, or eczema
- Swelling of the lips, face, tongue, and throat or other parts of the body.
- Shortness of breath, nasal congestion, or trouble breathing.
- Abdominal pain, diarrhoea, nausea, or vomiting.
- Dizziness, mild headache, or epilepsy
In some people, a food allergy can trigger a serious allergic reaction called anaphylaxis. It causes malignant signs and symptoms, including:
- Compression and tightening of the airways.
- Throat swelling or the feeling of a lump in the throat makes it difficult to breathe.
- Shock with a severe drop in blood pressure
- Rapid pulse
- Dizziness, mild headache, or loss of consciousness
Emergency treatment is crucial for anaphylaxis. If left untreated, anaphylaxis can lead to coma or death.
Causes of food allergy
In food allergies, the immune system treats a specific protein in the diet as a harmful, pathogenic, disease-causing substance. It responds by producing antibodies to attack this protein.
When the same food is eaten later, the antibodies are ready and tell the immune system to respond immediately. The immune system responds by releasing histamine and other substances into the bloodstream. Histamine and these other chemicals can cause food allergy symptoms.
Histamine causes the blood vessels to dilate (dilate) and the skin to become inflamed (swollen). It also affects the nerves, making the person itch. The nose produces more mucus, which causes itching, burning, and a runny nose.
Risk factors for food allergy:
Family history. If your family has common allergies like asthma, eczema, hives, or hay fever, you are at risk for food allergies.
Other allergies If you are already allergic to one food, you are at risk of becoming allergic to another food. Similarly, if you have other types of allergic reactions like hay fever or eczema, you are at a higher risk for food allergies.
Age. Food allergies are more common in children, especially young children and babies. As you age, your digestive system matures and your body is less likely to absorb foods or food components that trigger allergies.
Fortunately, children are often allergic to milk, soy, wheat, and eggs. Severe allergies and allergies to nuts and shellfish are common throughout life.
Asthma. Asthma and food allergies often occur together. When they do, both food allergies and asthma symptoms become severe.
Factors that increase your risk of developing an anaphylactic reaction:
- You have a history of asthma.
- Delay the use of epinephrine to treat your food allergy symptoms
- Absence of rash or other skin symptoms.
Diagnosis of food allergy
A food allergy usually triggers a reaction every time you eat food. Symptoms can vary from person to person and you may not always experience the same symptoms during each reaction. Allergic reactions to food affect the skin, respiratory, gastrointestinal, and cardiovascular systems. The severity of the follow-up reaction cannot be underestimated and all patients with food allergies should be carefully warned about the risk of anaphylaxis, which is a life-threatening reaction treated with epinephrine (adrenaline).
While food allergies can develop at any age, most are found in childhood. If you suspect a food allergy, see an allergist, who will take your medical and family history, determine what tests to do (if any), and use this information to find out if you have a food allergy. To make a diagnosis, allergists ask detailed questions about your medical history and symptoms.
Be prepared to answer questions about:
- After taking your history, your allergist may order skin tests and/or blood tests to determine if your body has food-specific immunoglobulin E (IgE) antibodies:
- Skin tests give results in about 20 minutes. A liquid that contains a food allergen is placed on the skin of your arm or back. Your skin is wrinkled with a small, clean tube, which allows fluid to drain under the skin. The test can be painful but uncomfortable if a cycle (similar to a blow from a mosquito bite) develops in the area where the allergen is suspected. As a control, you will also receive a skin prick with a liquid that does not contain allergens; This should not cause a reaction, allowing a comparison between the two test sites.
- Blood tests, which are slightly less accurate than skin tests, measure the amount of IgE antibodies to the specific foods being tested. Results are usually available within a week and are reported as a numerical value.
- Your specialist will use the results of these tests to make a diagnosis. A positive result does not necessarily indicate an allergy, although a negative result can be used to rule out one.
- In some cases, the allergist may recommend an oral diet test, which is considered the most accurate way to diagnose a food allergy. During the oral food challenge, which is administered under strict medical supervision, the patient is given an overdose of a suspected triggering diet, followed by a few hours of observation to determine if a reaction is occurring. This test can help when the patient’s history is unclear or when the skin or blood tests are incomplete. It can also be used to determine if an allergy has increased.
- Due to the possibility of a severe reaction, only experienced allergists in the doctor’s office or Food Challenge Center should handle the Oral Food Challenge, with medications and emergency equipment on hand.
Treatment options for food allergy
- Elimination Diet: Most patients need to see a dietitian after experiencing food allergies. If it is necessary to eliminate food from the diet, it is done in a way that is detrimental to the health of the person.
- For example, if the allergy is only to peanuts, there will be no health consequences if the person does not eat peanuts again. However, an allergy to milk means finding other sources of calcium and protein.
- Elimination does not mean not eating a particular diet; You can always be inhaling, touching, or even eating food with traces inside it. Knives, pans, cooking surfaces, and cutting boards must be allergen-free.
- Patients should read food and drink labels carefully. Some soaps, pets, glues, and adhesives may also contain food allergens.
- When eating out, it can be very difficult to stay alert.
Medications for emergencies
Antihistamines: They come in the form of gels, liquids, or tablets. They are usually effective in patients with mild or moderate allergies. Histamines are chemicals that cause many allergic symptoms, and antihistamines block their effects.
Epinephrine (adrenaline): Used by people with food allergies that can cause anaphylaxis. Epinephrine increases blood pressure by blocking blood vessels and relieves the airways.
The early introduction of peanut products is associated with a lower risk of peanut allergy. Before introducing allergy foods, talk with your paediatrician about the best time to serve them.
However, if a food allergy has already developed, the best way to prevent an allergic reaction is to know and prevent the food that is causing the signs and symptoms. For some, it is uncomfortable, but for others, it is too difficult. Also, some foods, when used as ingredients in some dishes, can hide well. This is especially true in restaurants and other social settings.
If you know you have a food allergy, follow these steps:
- Find out what you eat. Read food labels carefully.
- If you already have a severe reaction, wear a medical alert bracelet or necklace that will let others know that you have a food allergy if you have a reaction and are unable to communicate.
- Talk to your doctor about prescribing emergency epinephrine. If you have a severe allergic reaction, you may need to take an epinephrine auto-injector (adrenalin, EpiPen).
- Be careful in restaurants. Your waiter or chef knows that you definitely cannot eat the foods you are allergic to, and you must be fully aware that it will not be in the food you ordered. Also, make sure that food is not prepared on the surface or in pans that contain any food you are allergic to.
- Do not hesitate to let us know your needs. Restaurant staff will generally be more than happy to help when they clearly understand your request.
- Plan meals and snacks before you leave home. If necessary, bring a cooler with allergy-free food when travelling or going to an event. If you or your child won’t have a cake or dessert at the party, bring a special approved gift so no one is left out of the celebration.
If your child has a food allergy, take these precautions to ensure their safety:
- Inform important people that your child has a food allergy. Talk to child care providers, school personnel, the parents of your child’s friends, and other adults who communicate regularly with your children. Emphasize that an allergic reaction is deadly and requires immediate action. Make sure your child also knows how to ask for help right away if he/she responds to food.
- Describe the symptoms of a food allergy. Teach adults who spend time with their children how to recognize the signs and symptoms of an allergic reaction.
- Write an action plan. Your plan should explain how to care for your child when he has an allergic reaction to food. Give a copy of the plan to your child’s school nurse and other people who care for and supervise your child.
- Wear a medical alert bracelet or necklace on your child. This warning lists your child’s allergy symptoms and describes how others can provide first aid in an emergency.