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.
Symptoms of Food Allergies
On most occasions, food allergy symptoms are mild and well-tolerated. However, they may also sometimes turn out to be life-threatening. Symptoms of IgE-mediated food allergy can manifest within a few seconds or minutes after you have consumed the food. Most common symptoms include:
- Vomiting or nausea
- Hay fever-like symptoms such as sneezing or itchy eyes
- Abdominal cramps
- Itchiness and flushing over the mouth, ears, or throat
- Swelling on your eyes, nose, lips, and tongue
- Itchy raised red bumpy rashes in the body
Anaphylaxis is reversible but life-threatening allergiccondition that can easily lead to death, especially if you don’t seek treatment immediately. You should call 995 immediately if you are in a situation where you or someone is experiencing the severe symptoms as listed:
- Speaking and swallowing difficulty
- Feeling unconscious
- Tongue swelling
- Feeling lightheaded or dizzy
- Having difficulty breathing
For non-IgE-Mediated food allergies, the allergic reaction is caused at a relatively slower rate after you have eaten a particular food. This implies that it may take you a few hours or even a few days before you experience the symptoms. Symptoms may include:
- Abdominal cramps
- Dry itchy cracked eczematous skin
- Red bumpy, itchy rashes
- Vomiting and nausea
What’s the Difference Between Food Allergy and Intolerance?
These are two completely different terms. Some of the major differences include:
- Food intolerance occur as a result of your body being unable to digest particular foods such as gluten, lactose, food additives, or any other food particle.
- If you are suffering from food intolerance, you will most likely experience symptoms such as abdominal cramps, diarrhea, and perhaps bloating. These symptoms will always manifest a few hours after you’ve consumed the food.
- An individual having food intolerance problems will need to eat a huge chunk of that particular food to trigger an allergic response. On the other hand, with a food allergy, you only need to consume a small portion of the food to trigger an allergic reaction.
Foods That Trigger Allergies
Nearly any food out there can potentially cause an allergic reaction. However, below are some specific foods that cause allergic responses:
- Tree nuts
- Vegetables and fruits
- Dairy products
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 do I expect when I consult my doctor on Food allergy?
Your doctor will inquiry further on your symptoms of allergy and history of exposure to the food. Your doctor may offer you skin-prick testing, blood test, or even place you on a food elimination diet.
This test allows a possible allergen to come into contact with the cells of your immune system through the skin. This is performed by a drop of a standardized extract of the food on the forearm. The skin over the tested area is pierced by a small lancet. The test is nearly painless, though you may feel mild discomfort. Any itching, redness, and swelling may indicate a positive reaction.
There is a small theoretical risk of anaphylaxis in the skin-prick test. Your doctor will weigh out the risks and benefits of the procedure before offering to you. The test is usually performed in a controlled setting such as an allergy clinic, GP clinic, or hospital.
IgE blood test
This is an alternative to a skin-prick test, to measure the amount of allergic antibodies present in a person’s blood.
Food elimination diet
Your doctor will advise you to avoid consuming the possible food that causes allergy for 2-6 weeks. The food is later then reintroduced. A positive test suggesting food allergy or intolerance is when the symptoms resolved with food avoidance and recur with food re-introduction.
Depending on individual cases, your doctor may refer you to an Allergist for further evaluation.
What Are the Possible Food Allergy Treatment Options?
The most viable option would be to successfully identify the culprit food and avoid it once and for all. Your doctor may require you to cooperate with him and create an effective food diary and management plan. This may be achieved through:
- Identifying the potentially allergy-triggering food.
- Avoiding the identified food.
- Being aware and able to manage initial stages of allergic reactions using antihistamine medication.
- Being aware of the symptoms associated with a severe allergic reaction and reaching for immediate help.
- Having an alternative diet replacement to have an adequately nutritious diet.
Injectable Epinephrine for Anaphylaxis
If you are already suffering from anaphylaxis, your doctor will prescribe you an epinephrine pen, or simply Epi-pen. You will be taught how to successfully administer this medication on your own anytime you are faced with anaphylaxis allergic reaction. This is a highly important medication that works fairly faster to enhance breathing and alleviate swelling symptoms in a few seconds. With this medication at your disposal, you only need to inject yourself with it every 5-15 minutes as required to improve your condition. However, you are still highly encouraged to visit the nearest emergency department for further medical care by a healthcare professional.
Living With A Food Allergy
Even though there is no guaranteed cure for food allergy, there are a couple of measures that you can adopt to ensure that you live a normal life. They include:
- Knowing and avoiding your potential food allergens.
- Being vigilant of the labeling of your food ingredients. If food labeling isn’t shown, make sure you ask and check before eating that particular food.
- Making sure you have a standby emergency epinephrine pen.
- Avoiding a restrictive diet when you are pregnant or 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!