Many people often confuse food reaction to food allergy. To them, when you react negatively to a food, you’re considered allergic to it. In actuality, this is only food intolerance. A true food allergy—one where the person’s immune system is triggered by the food—is not as common as most people think. However, in recent years, the number of people who have actual food allergy is growing. As of the last count, about two percent of adults and six percent of children have true food allergies. The rest of the sufferers have food intolerance. The main difference between the former and the latter is that food intolerance does not involve the immune system.
If you had a bad experience with a food in the past and you fear recurrence, then knowing that you might only have intolerance and not allergy might be of little consolation. However, for those who do have food allergies, this distinction is very important. Food allergies can cause death.
Food Allergens and Allergic Reactions
Like most allergic reactions, allergens in food are responsible for the food allergies. They are mostly proteins that resist the heat of cooking, stomach acids, and digestive enzymes. As a result, they go to your gastrointestinal lining relatively intact, enter your bloodstream, and then to the various organs. That’s when you’ll feel various allergic reactions throughout the body.
The mechanism of food allergic reactions involves both the immune system and heredity:
- Immune System. There are two components of the immune system that are involved in allergic reaction to food. The first is a type of protein, an antibody that is called immunoglobulin E (IgE) that circulates through the blood. The other is called the mast cell, and it is found in all tissues of the body. However, the mast cell is especially common to areas of the body that are prone to allergies such as nose and throat, the skin, and the lungs.
- Heredity. Generally, it’s been observed that allergic people tend to come from families in which allergies are common. It might not necessarily be food, but rather common allergens such as pollen, fur, feathers, or drugs. Thus, it might seem that a person whose parents are both allergic has a higher chance of developing a food allergy than someone who only has one allergic parent.
Food allergy is a hypersensitivity reaction. For a person to be susceptible to an allergic reaction to a certain food allergen, he or she has to be sensitized to the food first. During the initial exposure to the allergen, the allergen stimulates the lymphocytes to produce the IgE antibody that is only specific to that allergen. The IgE is then released and attaches itself to the mast cells in the body. The next time the person is exposed to that food allergen, the allergen hones in on the IgE located in the mast cells and prompts the cells to release chemicals such as histamine. The chemicals produce the usual symptoms of food allergy.
Common Food Allergies
For adults, the most common sources of food allergic reactions are:
- shellfish (that includes shrimp, lobsters, and crabs)
- nuts from trees (such as walnuts)
Peanuts are one of the chief causes of allergic reaction worldwide.
Children have a somewhat different pattern than that of adults. The most common foods that cause allergic reaction in children are:
Sometimes, the children outgrow their allergies, as opposed to the adults keeping theirs. Children are also more likely to outgrow allergies to milk or soy formula than those for fishes or peanuts.
Regardless of age, in highly allergic people, even minuscule amounts can prove fatal. Less sensitive people, however, can tolerate small amounts of food they are allergic to.
Symptoms of Food Allergies
Different people react differently to the same allergens. Some people may just have an uncomfortable rash, while others may go into anaphylactic shock. In any case, signs and symptoms of a food allergy usually develop within a few minutes to an hour after having ingested the food.
The most common signs and symptoms of a true food allergy include:
- tingling in the mouth;
- itching or eczema;
- swelling, especially on the lips, face, throat, and neck;
- wheezing, nasal congestion, and a general difficulty in breathing;
- abdominal pain, nausea, and vomiting
- dizziness, light-headedness, and fainting.
Severe reactions result in anaphylaxis. The symptoms usually become much more serious and life-threatening. These include constriction of airways, shock, and a severe drop in blood pressure. Pulse usually becomes rapid. When a person goes into anaphylaxis, immediate medical attention is required.
Getting Rid of Food Allergies
Here are some recommended tips to get rid of your food allergy, or at least minimize its symptoms:
- Identify your food allergens. Make a chart or list of all the foods that you are allergic to, and make sure that you take it with you wherever you are. In the cases where you will not be able to have full control over what you eat, the list will let people know what is or is not allowed to you.
- Avoid foods that you are allergic to. Avoidance is really the best way to control food allergic reactions. Make sure that you read all ingredients in a processed food. If you are not familiar with a certain food that is being served in a restaurant, don’t hesitate to ask the chef of the ingredients. The extra trouble is more than worth the danger of you going into anaphylaxis.
- Bring with you your emergency medications. If you have a severe allergy, your doctor may provide you with injectable epinephrine, an adrenaline used to treat anaphylaxis. You need to carry this with you at all times so that you or someone else can give you an emergency shot if needed.
- Try other medications. Less severe reactions can be treated with antihistamines. These may come as oral applications or creams, for topical use. Be sure to check with your doctor first to make sure that you are getting the correct antihistamine for your allergy.
Food allergies are a serious matter. They can be life-threatening, so treat them with respect and the attention. Foods are an important part of our life, but they can as swiftly take it, too.
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