Thursday, July 28, 2011

Food Allergies

According to the Australian Society of Clinical Immunology and Allergy, Food Allergies affect about 5% of children and about 1% of adults.  Food allergy involves a reaction of the body's immune system to a  protein in the food consumed and is distinct from food intolerance where there is no immune response. Currently there is no "cure" for food allergy, although thankfully, most children seem to "grow out of it".

Symptoms: there is a wide spectrum of response to food allergy, from the very mild itching of lips to a full blown, life-threatening anaphylactic shock. Here are some of the more common signs of the allergic response
  • Tingling lips or itching in the mouth
  • Red itchy blotches or hives with itching or eczema
  • Swelling of the lips, face, tongue and throat.
  • Wheezing, stuffed nose or difficulty breathing
  • Abdominal pain, diorrhea, nausea or vomiting
The most serious form of allergic response is Anaphylaxis and requires urgent specialist attention
  • Swelling of the lips, tongue and throat
  • Difficulty breathing due to severe narrowing of the airways
  • Collapse
  • Rapid heart beat and low blood pressure
Causes: The problem underlying food allergies is that your body has recognized a sequence of protein in your diet, and decided that it's bad for you; and so it primes the immune system to be "on the lookout" for it the next time it appears. When it does re-enter your body in food, then the immune system responds by flooding the system with histamine and other chemicals in the mistaken belief that it's helping you! So once your system has been primed, even a tiny trace of the protein can trigger a massive response. Here are some of the more common trigger foods:

  • Shellfish, such as prawns, lobster and crab
  • Peanuts
  • Tree nuts eg walnuts
  • Fish
  • Eggs
In children, you can add Milk, Wheat and Eggs to that list.

Also, for some people, exercise can trigger a food allergy response so it's best to avoid eating before exercise for those with a known food allergy. Finally, those people with hay fever may find that in the hay fever "season" their food allergies are worse as there appears to be a crossed over effect with pollen and the triggering food proteins.

Diagnosis: There is no definitive diagnostic test for food allergies, but a comprehensive history backed up with appropriate testing - skin patch testing and blood tests - can lead to a pretty definite diagnosis.

Treatment: For milder cases, these can be managed by simple over the counter Anti-Histamine medications. For more serious episodes, then medical advice must be followed and patients will need to be trained how to use an Adrenaline containing, self-injecting syringe, and to carry it at all times.

Common Sense:

As my mother used to say -never trust anyone - always read the labels, even if you've had a similar food before, read the label again, as contents can and do change.

If in doubt, don't eat it: it's much safer.

For children: parents do need to be vigilant and tell family, friends and schools that their child has a food allergy and never take a risk that someone will be as careful as you in caring for your child's health.
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