Food Allergy

1 What is Food Allergy?

Food allergy refers to an abnormal immune response to certain foods. A variety of foods like fish, peanut, tree nuts, and shellfish may cause food allergy. In children, milk, eggs, peanuts, and soy are the main food materials that cause an exaggerated immune response.

Allergic reaction to a food may cause mild symptoms or very severe, life-threatening symptoms called anaphylaxis. Itching, vomiting, diarrhea, difficulty in breathing, and hives are the most common symptoms of food allergy.

It is diagnosed based on symptoms, family history, skin test, and blood tests. Those who are allergic to the certain food should have an emergency bracelet describing the allergy.

Avoiding the food is the best way to prevent the symptoms of food allergy. About 6-8% of children and 3% of adults are affected by this allergy. Most of the children outgrow the allergy by adolescence.

2 Symptoms

Symptoms of food allergy appear within few minutes or hours after having the causative food. Symptoms vary with individuals. Symptoms may involve different organ systems like skin, gastrointestinal system, respiratory system, and cardiovascular system.

The most common symptoms are:

  • Reddish, itchy, swelling on skin called hives
  • Dry itchy rashes called eczema
  • Swelling and reddishness around the eyes
  • Itching in the mouth and ear canal
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Abdominal pain
  • Diarrhea
  • Nasal congestion
  • Running nose
  • Sneezing
  • Dry cough

Anaphylaxis is the severe, life-threatening symptom of egg allergy. This includes difficulty in breathing due to constriction of the airways, stomach pain, increased pulse rate, and shock. During shock, the blood pressure suddenly drops, and the person may lose consciousness.

3 Causes

An exaggerated response of the immune system to a certain food is the main cause of food allergy. When exposed to these foods, the body produces antibodies against the allergen. With continued exposure, the antibodies trigger a release of histamines. Histamines are responsible for the symptoms of allergic reaction.

Family history and age are the main risk factors for food allergy. It is more commonly seen in children, particularly those who have atopic dermatitis.

Most of the food allergies are caused by proteins found in food. This includes shellfish, peanuts, tree nuts, fish and eggs. In children proteins in egg white, yolk, milk, peanuts, tree nuts, and wheat are the common culprits in food allergy.

Symptoms of food allergy often resemble that of food intolerance. Food allergy elicits an allergic reaction even with small amounts of the causative food. One may be able to eat small amounts without any reaction in case of food intolerance.

Intolerance is caused by the inability to digest the components of food. It does not have an involvement of immune system while food allergy is an exaggerated immune response to the food.

4 Making a Diagnosis

Making a diagnosis of food allergy is done by performing several tests.

The timing of the appearance of symptoms often reveals the culprit for an allergic reaction. Symptoms of food allergy appear within a short period after having certain foods.

  • Skin prick test – in this test, small amounts of allergen extracts are placed on the palm and the skin pricked using a probe, allowing the extract to seep into the skin. Formation of small, reddish, bumps on the skin within 15 minutes of testing indicates an allergy to the specific food. To differentiate between foods, different proteins are tested.
  • For confirmation, the oral food challenge is recommended. In this method, small amounts of the suspected food are given for eating. If a reaction develops within a short period, it shows a definitive diagnosis of egg allergy.
  • Food elimination test is another way to diagnose allergy to food. As the name indicates, in this method the suspected food is eliminated from the diet. The absence of symptoms when the food is removed shows the likelihood of allergy.

5 Treatment

Food allergies cannot be cured, but you can treat the symptoms by avoiding symptoms, and taking medicine administered by your doctor.

Avoiding the particular food in a diet is the best way to control food allergy. But, it is difficult to completely avoid them as the allergic protein may be present in other products. Thus, one should be vigilant in reading labels.

Antihistamines are used to control the symptoms. These medications block histamines, chemicals that cause symptoms of the egg allergy.

For severe symptoms, epinephrine shots are suggested. Auto-injectors are now available so that one can take the shot whenever needed.

6 Prevention

Identifying and avoiding foods that cause an allergy is the most important way to prevent food allergy. The food or protein that cause

The food or protein that cause an allergic reaction may very well be present in other products. Thus, one should be vigilant while reading the labels.

Those who have had severe food allergies should carry and emergency bracelet for easy identification and treatment. Carrying an auto-injector for treating the condition is important.

Child help should be aware of food allergy and the way to use the emergency shot.

7 Alternative and Homeopathic Remedies

A few alternative remedies exist for managing the symptoms of food allergy.

Phosphorous, Nux Vomica, Arsenic Album, Pulsatilla, Sulphur, Argentum Nitricum, Colchicum, Calcaria Carb, Calcaria Flour, Ferrum Met, Ledum Pal, Lycopodium, Merc Cor, Berberis Vulgaris, Natrum Mur, Natrum Sulph, Lachesis, Causticum, Carbo Animalis, are recommended based on the symptoms.

Acupuncture and herbal remedies are also used in controlling the symptoms of food allergy.

8 Lifestyle and Coping

Lifestyle modifications are necessary in order to cope with food allergy.

Read labels of food products to ensure that they do not contain any of the suspected food. Stay clear from foods that might contain any allergy-causing agent.

Have a support system with family, friends, teachers, and care givers for your child. All of them should be aware of the food allergy and the treatment methods. Know the allergy and discuss the concerns with family and friends.

9 Risks and Complications

Anaphylaxis is the most serious complication of food allergy.

Some may have atopic dermatitis and migraines as complications. 

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