- Introduction* Food Allergy is an allergic response to particular foods or food additives.
- About* Studies show that about 6% of children and 1% to 2% of adults have a Food Allergy. Babies and young children are most often allergic to milk, eggs, wheat, soyabean products and peanuts. Older children and adults are most often allergic to peanuts, tree nuts (walnuts, almonds and cashews), fish and shellfish. Allergies to food dyes and colours are rare. Many food intolerances are mistaken for allergies. A food intolerance is an adverse food-induced reaction that does not involve the immune system. Sugars and fats do not produce an allergic response. Lactose intolerance is due to difficulty digesting the sugar in milk and is also not an allergy. Food allergies do not cause hyperactivity.
- Cause* Food Allergy occurs when the body's immune system over-reacts to normally harmless substances (called allergens) in some foods. Hay fever, eczema and many cases of asthma are all caused by allergies. When an allergic person comes into contact with an allergen, their immune system produces a special kind of antibody (IgE). Other cells release further chemicals such as histamine that cause the symptoms of an allergic reaction.
While allergies are not directly inherited, you may inherit a tendency to be allergic. This is called being atopic. A child with no history of allergies in the family has a 10% chance of developing hay fever, Food Allergies, eczema or asthma. A child with one parent with allergies has a 30% chance and a child with 2 atopic parents has a 60% chance. Allergies start only if you are then exposed to an allergen.
- Signs and symptoms* Symptoms vary widely between individuals. Symptoms typically appear within minutes to two hours after the person has eaten the food to which they are allergic. The most common symptoms include: a tingling sensation in the mouth; swelling of the tongue and the throat; difficulty swallowing; difficulty breathing; nasal congestion; runny or itchy nose (rhinitis); hives or skin rash; vomiting, abdominal cramps and diarrhoea; wheezing (this often sounds like the wheezing associated with asthma); and in severe cases, drop in blood pressure, loss of consciousness and respiratory failure (anaphylactic shock).
- Treatment* Food Allergies can only be correctly diagnosed by a Doctor. There is no cure for Food Allergies. Treatment is aimed at identifying and avoiding the trigger foods. Follow the recommended Diet Hints. Always check food labels carefully and do not eat anything which is unlabelled. In case of a severe reaction (anaphylactic shock) medical attention must be sought immediately. - Dial for an ambulance and tell them the patient is having an allergic reaction. - Loosen clothing around the neck and chest. - If able to swallow, give oral antihistamine (in tablet form). - Observe the airway, breathing and circulation. - If breathing stops commence *Cpr.* Your Doctor may recommend you carry an injectable dose of adrenaline with you at all times. Adrenaline (adrenaline) is used in severe reactions and can be a life-saving measure.
- Diet tips* A Dietitian should be consulted to plan a nutritious diet which excludes trigger foods. - Elimination Diets and Challenge Testing: An elimination diet is used to find out which foods are allergenic. It usually takes place over a number of weeks and involves strict avoidance of a number of foods which have been identified as common causes of food allergy. No foods or fluids may be consumed other than those specified in the starting diet. - In high risk infants (one or both parents allergic), breastfeeding mothers should avoid highly allergenic foods and the introduction of solid foods to the infant should be delayed in order to reduce the development of food allergy in infants. - Grape seed extract, quercetin and citrus fruits containing flavonoids are thought to reduce sensitivity to allergens by reducing the levels of histamine released by mast cells. - Restaurant or take-away food can be particularly dangerous. Even if the allergenic food is avoided, meals prepared on the same surface may be contaminated with allergens. Always tell staff of your allergy and ensure the food is prepared on a clean area.
- Vits/mins/herbs* Supplements may be of benefit in reducing symptoms but are not a cure for allergies. You may be allergic to some substances used in vitamin and herb preparations. Always check the labels of any supplements to ensure the allergens are not present. - Garlic and onion may reduce the severity of a skin reaction. - Bromelain (an enzyme found in pineapple) is thought to inhibit inflammation and may assist in reducing the inflammatory response triggered by allergy. - Vitamin C reduces histamine release and the sensitivity of inflammatory cells in responding to allergens. - Albizzia may be used for its 'anti allergy' properties. It is believed to help with lowering allergy producing antibodies and reducing inflammation. - Evening Primrose Oil has proven anti-inflammatory properties which, if taken over a period of time, may help to reduce the severity of Allergies.