The incidence of food allergy is on the rise. Research conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shows that food allergy affects an estimated 4-6% of children in the United States, and food allergy is becoming more common. If you or your child has experienced symptoms of food allergy, it is best to be assessed by a physician. Board certified food allergy specialist are experts in the evaluation and management of food allergy and its symptoms and will educate you on what measures to take to prevent an allergic reaction. This blog will answer questions related to food allergy.0.
What is a food allergy?
Food allergy is a potentially serious immune response to eating a specific food. Eight types of foods account for over 90% of allergic reactions: milk, egg, peanuts, tree nuts, fish, shellfish, wheat and soy. Reactions to foods can range from an itchy mouth or hives, to breathing problems and low blood pressure, which may be severe.
Food allergy is different than food intolerance, which is more of a digestive issue that is not life-threatening, and can be related to carbohydrates in the food.
If you or your child are experiencing symptoms of food allergy, it is vital to consult a health care professional or visit a food allergy center in a timely manner. Thorough history and testing are an integral part of identifying the cause of the allergic symptoms, so that future symptoms may be prevented.
How are allergy tests done?
There are two types of allergy tests used in the first step of food allergy assessment:
Skin testing is the most sensitive mode of allergy testing, as it evaluates the interaction of a specific allergen with your body’s immune components.
- Skin tests – use the “skin prick” method. The skin prick method is done by placing a small amount of allergen on the surface of the skin which is then gently scratched with a small plastic device. A small area of swelling indicates a positive reaction.
- Blood test – a lab test that provides information about the presence of food specific allergic immune components.
What does an allergic reaction to food look like, and how can it be managed?
The symptoms and severity of allergic reaction vary from person-to-person. The most common signs and symptoms of food allergic reactions are hives, itching, vomiting, diarrhea, swelling of face, tongue and lips, and wheezing. Your physician will prepare an allergy action plan, and educate you on the use of medications to stop the symptoms.
Symptoms such as difficulty breathing, hypotension, and anaphylaxis, which is a sudden and severe form of allergic reaction, rarely happen, but should they occur, call 911 in addition to using emergency injectable epinephrine.
What should I do to avoid an allergic reaction?
Avoid the allergens that can cause an allergic reaction. For example, If you are allergic to peanut butter, make sure not to eat food which contain peanuts, peanut products or peanut butter. Unfortunately, accidental exposures can occur. It is important to be prepared, by carrying injectable epinephrine. If you are exposed to the allergen, follow your food allergy action plan and seek medical assistance right away.
Is there a cure for food allergies?
Standard management of allergic reaction to food is prevention through avoidance, and management of symptoms. Numerous studies have been conducted on modifying the immune system through introduction of the allergen by mouth, sublingually, or through the skin. Oral immunotherapy (OIT), which involves slow, steady desensitization by eating small, gradually increasing amounts of a food protein, has been shown to effectively suppress the allergic response in children. OIT is only conducted under the direction of a board certified allergist and immunologist, who can discuss whether this therapy is right for you or your child.