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How Can I Find Out More About Food Allergies?
—by Jean Fisher
Know the difference between food allergies and food intolerance.
Food allergies may not be as common as you think. Only 6% of children and 2% of adults suffer from food allergies1. A true food allergy occurs when a person's immune system reacts to a food by creating antibodies. The antibodies release histamine which triggers the allergic reaction. Peanuts, tree nuts, fish or shellfish, milk, eggs, soy and wheat are foods that can signal antibodies to form and send the body into attack mode.
Is it a food allergy or an intolerance?
A food intolerance is a digestive response to food in which certain foods cannot be broken down and assimilated by the body. Lactose, a sugar found in milk, is responsible for the greatest amount of food intolerance symptoms and affects perhaps 75% of the world population.2 The most common symptoms of food intolerance is stomach pain, nausea, cramping, and diarrhea.
What are the symptoms of food allergy?
The symptoms of food allergy can be much more serious. Hives, a hoarse voice and wheezing are the most common signs of food allergy. The histamine released during an allergic reaction could also cause airways to constrict and make breathing difficult or impossible. Stomach pain and diarrhea may also be present. Symptoms ususally appear an hour or two after eating.
How are food allergies tested?
Both skin tests and blood tests can be run to test for food allergies. The biggest problem with testing for food allergies is the high number of false postitives that can result.3 Use of a food diary can be very helpful when deciding which foods should be tested. Keep in mind that the first time a food is eaten, no allergic symptoms will be present. The antibody is formed at that time, but the histamines are not released until the suspected invader returns.
How are food allergies treated?
Obviously, a person who has suffered from an allergic reaction to food would be motivated to avoid that food in the future. Reading every food label is very important. People with severe allergic responses should be prepared to treat anaphylaxis. Wearing a medical alert bracelet and carrying epinephrene could be life-saving measures. Oral antihistamines can alleviate the symptoms of food allergies in many cases. Taking an allergy pill before eating CANNOT prevent food allergy symptoms. Nor have allergy shots proven successful in preventing food allergies.
Know the difference between food allergies and food intolerance. Learn to recognize which foods can trigger a food allergy and how to protect yourself from a future attack. Parents of young children remember that a food allergy will not reveal symptoms until the second exposure. Keeping close watch of you or your child's diet can help pinpoint the triggers that can cause an adverse reaction.
Our editor, Jean Fisher, is a former elementary teacher. She offers "What's For Dinner?" as a free service for busy families. One delicious meal is suggested for each day of the week, plus an organized grocery shopping list that can be customized to include all your shopping needs. You will also find two stimulating table topics and one educational after-dinner activity for each day.
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