All You Need to Know About Food Allergy
Your body’s immune system is naturally tuned to keep you healthy by fending off infections as well as other potential dangers to your health.
A food allergy is an allergic reaction that happens when your immune system overreacts to either a particular substance in a food or food, wrongly perceiving it as a danger thereby triggering a protective response. This unfortunate phenomenon may occur during both your childhood or adulthood.
Research shows that food allergy affects between 6 and 8% of children under the age of three and up to 3% of grownups. It is usually very easy to confuse a food allergy with food intolerance. However, it is imperative to note that food intolerance, though bothersome, food intolerance is never a life-threatening condition and doesn’t involve your immune system.
Food allergy symptoms may vary from one individual to another, and victims may experience different symptoms during every episode of a food allergy. Food-related allergic reactions may affect your skin, gastrointestinal tract, cardiovascular as well as your respiratory systems. It is not always possible to tell how serious your next reaction might turn out to be.
Food Allergy Testing
Food allergy test is used by the doctor to find out if you have an allergy to a specific food. In simple terms, a food allergy may be described as an abnormal immune response to food. It happens when your immune system overreacts to a particular protein found in specific food and perceives it as a threat. Your body’s defense mechanism will in response attack it as if it is a pathogen. This scenario can happen during both your childhood and adulthood.
Food allergy incidence has dramatically increased in the last few years. Although there is no definite explanation to this, it is theorized that there are unexplained evolutionary changes in a particular child’s diet over the last three or four decades.
Another possible theory is the hygiene hypothesis. According to this myth, the generation today are brought up in a germ-free environment which results in a poorly developed immune system because the body is not exposed to these germs during the early life stages of life. This implies that when the person is finally introduced to a particular allergen during their adulthood, an allergy is more likely to occur.
What are the symptoms of food allergies that might be experienced?
Most of the time, the symptoms that are associated with food allergies do not affect one’s day to day life. However, there are some allergies that can be life-threatening. Food allergy symptoms can appear within seconds or minutes of consuming the errant food.
General symptoms may include:
- Nausea or vomiting
- Sneezing or eye irritation
- Abdominal cramps
- Swelling of the lips, tongue, nose, and eyes
- Flushing and itchiness around the mouth, throat, and ears
- Red upraised rash about the body
What is a serious food allergy reaction?
Anaphylaxis is a serious complication as a result of a food allergy. This reaction occurs rapidly. You may experience symptoms such as:
- Swallowing and/or speaking difficulty
- Dizziness or light-headedness
- Tongue swelling
- Difficulty breathing
Without immediate medical attention and an epi-pen, anaphylaxis can be fatal.
Am I having a food allergy reaction or experiencing food intolerance?
While some of the symptoms of food allergy and food intolerance are the same, there is an important distinction. If you eat food that you are intolerant to, you can feel ill and wretched. However, if you eat something that you are allergic to your body can react severely, endangering your life.
Simply put: Digestive system vs Immune system.
Food intolerance occurs in the digestive system. It affects the ability to breakdown food effectively. This may be caused by naturally occurring chemicals in food, enzyme deficiencies, and food additive sensitivities. Most of the time, people can consume small amounts of food without issue.
On the other hand, a food allergic reaction affects the immune system. Your immune system is in charge of your body’s defense system. For example, if you are allergic to cow’s milk, your immune system will identify cow’s milk as an allergen or intruder. Your immune system will spring into action producing antibodies called Immunoglobulin E(IgE).
These antibodies trigger the cells that release the chemical that cause an allergic reaction. Each type of IgE reacts to a specific allergen. A food allergy is more serious than food intolerance since it can precipitate a serious or fatal reaction when even the smallest amount is eaten, touched, or inhaled. Allergic reactions are generally observed on the skin as itchiness, swelling, or hives. Vomiting and/or diarrhea are the usual gastrointestinal symptoms. Respiratory symptoms may accompany gastrointestinal and skin symptoms. They do not usually occur in isolation.
What might be some of the Foods that Trigger Allergies?
Any food has allergic potential. However, below are some foods that commonly cause allergic responses:
- Tree nuts
- Fruits and vegetables
Food Allergy Test
When you schedule an appointment with your doctor, he will first enquire about your allergy symptoms as well as a history of your exposure to the said food. As explained earlier, the most common tests that your doctor will use to determine the food responsible for your allergy include the blood test and the skin-prick test. He may also put you on a food elimination diet.
What should I expect when I consult my doctor about Food Allergies?
During your consultation, your doctor will enquire further on the history of your exposure to the particular food and the symptoms that you are experiencing. The doctor will then recommend tests such as the blood test ro the skin-prick test.
This skin involves placing the possible allergen on your skin to see how your immune system will react. A standardized drop of the food is placed on your forearm. The skin of the tested area is pierced by a small lancet to allow for a reaction. The test is virtually painless, the most you might experience is some mild discomfort. Any redness, itchiness, or swelling may suggest a positive reaction.
Will the skin prick test for food allergies be painful?
You will experience only mild discomfort and most patients are able to tolerate the procedure with ease. There is no need to worry, there will be no bleeding during the procedure. Patients who are sensitive to the allergen being tested may experience mild irritation and some itching in the test area.
Is the Skin Prick Test for Food allergies suitable for everyone?
The Skin prick may not be the best option for those who have a history of life-threatening allergic reactions to particular allergens. This test would be too risky for such persons. It is also a poor choice for those who suffer from severe psoriasis and eczema. They may also be unable to stop taking their oral antihistamines before the test. The IgE blood test is far more suitable for these patients.
You can read more about different allergy testing available here.
IgE Blood Test
If you suffer from atopy, your immune system produces IgE antibodies to combat certain allergens. These specific IgE antibodies can be detected in a blood test. Several allergens can be tested for using a single blood test. You can expect to get your results back in about 1 week. No special preparations are necessary for the blood test to be administered.
Advice for Patients Living with a Food Allergy
While there is no cure for a food allergy, you can live a normal life if you put a couple of measures in place. They include:
- Knowing and avoiding your food allergens
- Paying attention to the labels on the food you buy. If there is no labeling, be sure to ask before eating the food.
- Always make sure you have an emergency epi-pen with you.
- Avoid a restrictive diet during pregnancy or while breastfeeding.
Allergens To Test For
- Guinea Pig
- Honey Bee Venom
- When vacuuming, use a micro-filtered bagged vacuum as this helps to prevent allergens from leaking back into the air.
Frequently Asked Questions on Food Allergy in Singapore
Are food allergies genetically inheritable?
Even though allergies may run in families, it can be very tough to tell whether a kid will genetically inherit a parent’s food allergy or not. According to some studies, it is suggested that the younger siblings of a kid suffering from a peanut allergy will also become peanut allergy victims.
I just suffered a mild allergic reaction to a particular food. Can I consume the same food again?
Food allergy symptoms usually vary between mild and severe, and just because a previous reaction resulted in a few allergy issues doesn’t necessarily imply that all reactions will be the same. After all, a food that was responsible for your mild symptoms could potentially cause more serious symptoms at some point in time.
However, it is imperative to note that not every individual who suffers certain symptoms after consuming some foods has a food allergy. For example, you may experience some form of itchiness in your mouth or throat after eating some unripe fruit or vegetable, a symptom that may indicate a reaction to pollen, a phenomenon medically referred to as oral allergy syndrome. In this case, your immune system identifies the pollen as well as similar proteins available in the food and initiates an allergic reaction towards it. When you heat the food, the allergen is destroyed and there is a strong possibility that you may consume it without any issues.
Are food allergies preventable?
The American Academy of Pediatrics published some findings in 2013 that strongly supported a study that suggested that feeding solid foods to toddlers increases the chances of allergies. According to this particular study, babies younger than seventeen weeks should never be given solid foods. Instead, it recommends breastfeeding such babies for an extended period
Regarding peanut allergy, children with peanut allergy have dramatically increased and according to the latest guidelines, infants suffering from severe eczema are the ones at greater risk of experiencing peanut allergy.
It is imperative to note that a significant number of infants are either low or moderate-risk for suffering peanut allergies; unless you suspect that your child has a peanut allergy, you may try to introduce peanut-filled foods to your young baby at the comfort of your home. However, it is worth mentioning that the whole peanut shouldn’t be offered to infants because they are a major choking hazard.
So, what treatment options are available for food allergies?
Currently, as things stand, the only viable treatment option for most food allergies is avoiding the particular food that is responsible for your symptoms. Perhaps one major exception to this rule is peanut allergy!
In early 2020, the FDA approved the FIRST peanut allergy treatment for kids and teenagers between the ages of four and seventeen. This treatment is referred to as Palforzia. It is an oral therapy that is taken daily and functions by modifying your immune system. When an allergic infant or child is exposed to small but increasing amounts of peanut protein that is purified, it significantly reduces the chances of an allergic reaction by accidental ingestion occurring.
Regardless, it should be noted that this particular treatment is not a cure for peanut allergy, and doesn’t also doesn’t fend off peanut allergy. As an alternative, the FDA is currently reviewing a skin patch treatment for those suffering from peanut allergy for approval. Regarding how it works, it involves placing a small amount of a peanut allergen onto your skin daily, minimizing your sensitivity to peanut as a result. Unfortunately, these two treatment options are not currently available in Singapore.
Lots of research are underway to establish ways that can potentially make people less sensitive to food allergies and we can only hope for effective therapies that will hopefully manage food-related allergies better in the near future.
Can food allergies remain on objects? And can allergic reactions happen from having contact with food allergens that remain on objects such as computer keyboards and board games?
Yes, it is very possible for allergens to stick on objects if they are not thoroughly cleaned. And this implies that coming in contact with an object that contains a particular substance you are allergic to would possibly cause a rash at the site of contact. However, it has been proven that if you don’t swallow the allergen, the chances are very low that you will suffer further reactions. And if you do suffer, it would be very rare to experience a severe allergic reaction. On most occasions, you’ll only need to wash the area to prevent the development of a rash.
There has been a common myth that you can develop a severe allergic reaction by simply touching an object without consuming the food. Numerous studies have, however, established that by cleaning your hands thoroughly using both water and soap, as well as the surface using detergent, you can remove the allergen completely. However, it is important to note that gel-based alcohol hand sanitizers cannot eliminate allergens from the surface of your skin.
Can you suffer from food allergies as an adult?
Even though significant cases of food allergies occur during childhood, they can as well occur in adulthood. The most prevalent food allergy for adults is shellfish. In this regard, mollusks and crustaceans, tree nuts, fish, and peanuts. Many grownups with food allergies have experienced allergy symptoms since they were kids.
Among adults, food allergy reactions are often missed simply because symptoms such as diarrhea or nausea can be mistaken for food poisoning. Many people don’t always take their symptoms seriously, and this can be dangerous because you can easily miss important hints, putting your entire life at risk particularly if you continue eating the food. Also referred to as oral allergy syndrome, the pollen-food syndrome is a condition that can occur in adulthood. It is usually triggered by the so-called cross-reacting allergens found in both raw vegetables and fruits as well as certain tree nuts. It is worth mentioning that this occurrence is never a food allergy even though the symptoms develop from food. To be more precise, it refers to a pollen allergy.
The associated oral allergy syndrome symptoms usually include an itchy tongue or mouth and perhaps swelling on the tongue or lips. These symptoms usually subside within a short period simply because the cross-reacting allergens get digested fairly faster, and don’t involve other parts of your body. And these symptoms can help differentiate between a true food allergy from oral allergy.
Is it possible to outgrow food allergies?
Yes, it is generally possible to outgrow your allergies, and kids are the ones who generally tend to outgrow allergies to egg, wheat, milk, and soy. According to recent studies, nearly 25% of kids can potentially outgrow their peanut allergy. However, a relatively smaller number is expected to outgrow their tree nut allergies. Of course, parents need not assume that their kid’s allergy will be lifelong even though this is usually the case.
If you develop a food allergy in your adulthood, there are very minimal chances that you’ll outgrow it. Food allergies in adulthood are generally lifelong.
What is the likelihood of suffering a life-threatening reaction to airborne allergens?
Currently, as things are, there is no single study that has conclusively shown that an allergen can become airborne and trigger your symptoms. Apart from a few cases that involve symptoms from fish allergy developing when a person cooked fish, individuals with food allergies only experience severe reactions after consuming the suspect food.
Most peanut allergy victims are usually worried about the prospect of coming in contact with peanut dusts, particularly on airplanes. In most cases, reactions only occur after a person has touched peanut dust that accumulates on tray tables or any other surfaces. According to a recent study, simply wiping the contaminated surfaces to eliminate any dust leads to very few people experiencing reactions during a flight.
So, what is the cost of undergoing a food allergy test?
Just like many medical procedures, there is no definite cost for food allergy testing. What’s more, insurance coverage for allergies also varies greatly.
It will be highly recommended that you check with your doctor and insurance provider for further information!
So, what is gluten? And how prevalent is gluten allergy?
In simple terms, gluten is a type of protein available in grains such as rye, barley, and wheat. While some people may be allergic to wheat, this doesn’t necessarily mean that such people suffer from a gluten allergy. Gluten allergy is a common term that is often mistaken for wheat allergy, or in some instances, for celiac disease.
To put things right, nothing exists known as a gluten allergy! However, there is a health condition known as celiac disease, which is a digestive problem that can be life-threatening if not treated appropriately. Common celiac disease symptoms usually include a rash or severe diarrhea after consuming food products that contain gluten, a dramatic weight loss or failure to gain weight as well as abdominal discomfort.
In kids, victims may only experience poor weight gain. This is usually a serious condition that should only be diagnosed and subsequently treated by a board-certified gastroenterologist. Effective treatment is only avoiding gluten. It is worth noting that gluten intolerance isn’t an allergy.
Individuals exhibiting certain symptoms may have to be tested for celiac disease. However, very few gluten intolerance victims suffer from celiac disease. Gluten intolerance doesn’t always warrant allergy testing.. If you suspect that you may be having gluten intolerance, you should get assessed by your doctor!