Food Allergies

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food-allergiesIt is estimated that as many as 1 in every 6 people is sensitive to specific foods, and that 1 in 10 children and 1 in 20 adults suffer from true, life threatening food allergies. Yet, 25 years ago, no one had ever heard of food allergies. Food allergies are on the rise in all modern countries and food allergies in infants and children have increased to epidemic proportions in the last decade.

While the reasons for this rapid increase remain unclear, it is known that true food allergies are triggered by a food protein that causes a strong reaction by the immune system. This reaction can occur in a few minutes or up to a few hours after ingestion of the food. Skin reactions including profound itching, rash or hives are present with food allergies 90% of the time. Wheezing and shortness of breath are also very common, while nausea, vomiting or diarrhea are much less common. Severe reactions can progress rapidly in children or adults.

Significant food allergies usually begin within two hours after ingestion of the triggering food. Anaphylaxis, the most severe form of allergic reaction, can progress rapidly and be dangerous, even deadly, without prompt medical attention.

Reactions to food such as a migraine after eating chocolate are not allergic reactions. Lactose intolerance and the accompanying cramping and diarrhea after eating dairy products is not an allergy but an inability to digest milk proteins.

The most common food allergies (or sensitivities) in childhood are caused by milk, eggs, and peanuts. Most children outgrow their milk, egg, wheat or soy allergies by or during puberty. The most common food allergies in adulthood are peanuts, tree nuts, fish and shellfish.

Peanut allergies tend to be lifelong. Peanuts are the allergen most often associated with severe or fatal reactions although any food has the potential to cause severe anaphylaxis. In recent years, more attention to food manufacturing practices and labeling have acknowledged this peanut problem and help to decrease the possibility of exposure.

Many variables can affect the severity of food allergies. How the food was prepared, the amount ingested, presence of an acute or chronic illness, medications, alcohol or even exercise can affect a reaction.

Managing Food Allergies – At its simplest, the treatment of food allergies has consisted of avoiding exposure and ingestion of the allergenic food and making antihistamines and epinephrine immediately available.

Total abstinence is indeed difficult and often impossible as evidenced by the large number of accidental ingestions and allergic reactions that have resulted in emergency room visits. Even with strict avoidance measures, the potential for sudden and life-threatening outbreaks can lead to extreme anxiety in both the child and the parent.

 

 

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