Overview of Food Allergies
Our immune systems are designed to protect us from pathogens and other foreign particles that may do us harm. Upon sensing an intrusion, the body sends specialized cells that can fight and kill the offending particle by inducing the inflammation response. Normally, the immune response is appropriate to the level of threat. The allergic response, however, is an overreaction by the immune system, normally in response to something that is not particularly harmful, such as dust or pollen. People can also develop allergies to particular foods, which can cause a severe allergic reaction upon ingestion.
DR. GULATI FEATURED ON WCBS-TV'S "EYE ON NEW YORK"
Dr. Gulati is featured on WCBS-TV Eyes on New York discussing foods, especially
and seasonal allergies.
In order to qualify as a food allergy, the response by the body must be an immune response. Food poisoning, for example, is due to toxins that bacteria in food release into the gut, so would not be considered an allergic reaction. The same goes for MSG-induced migraine headaches, caffeine tremors, and lactose intolerance. While these are physiological responses to specific foods, they are not the result of immune responses by the body.
Food allergies are quite prevalent. Surveys suggest that up to 12 million Americans have some sort of food allergy and the allergic responses from accidental encounter with these foods are responsible for 30,000 emergency room visits and hundreds of deaths each year. In the most severe responses, the patient experiences a violent full body immune response, sending them into respiratory distress, convulsions, and unconsciousness. This potentially fatal condition is called anaphylaxis (it is also said that the patient goes into "anaphylactic shock") and is a very serious health emergency. It is critically important that people be aware of their own food allergies and make others around them aware, as well, in case anaphylactic shock occurs and prevents the sufferer from expressing the problem.
Symptoms of Food Allergies
An allergic reaction to food can occur within seconds of consuming the food or may take an hour to develop. Symptoms include:
- Swelling of the lips, tongue, face, and the eyelids. The swelling of the tongue in the mouth may make it difficult to swallow or breath.
- Itchiness of the mouth, throat, skin, and eyes.
- Nasal congestion, scratchy throat, and wheezing.
- Abdominal pain, stomach cramps, diarrhea, nausea, and vomiting.
In the case of a severe food allergy that induces anaphylactic shock, a person may experience:
- Sudden drop in blood pressure.
- Respiratory distress and heart palpitations.
- Drowsiness, dizziness, or loss of consciousness
Risk Factors of Food Allergies
Food allergies in children can impact their growth and development if the sources are not identified and eliminated quickly. Mild food allergies in adults may be reasonably tolerated, the symptoms perhaps confused with food poisoning or illness-related gastrointestinal distress. Clearly, If a person is sensitive enough to the food that anaphylactic shock is a probability, special care must be taken to avoid eating, touching, or smelling the food, as anaphylaxis may be fatal.
Causes of Food Allergies
Over 90% of the food allergies in the United States are caused by the same eight food types. These include:
- Dairy.Â This allergy renders a person unable to consume milk or dairy products, as the proteins in cow milk provoke an immune response.
- Eggs.Â Most people with egg allergies are responding to proteins in the egg white, however some also develop reactions against yolk proteins. Some people with egg allergies also go on to develop allergies to chicken and other poultry.
- Peanuts. Â It is estimated that peanut allergies contribute to more food-related deaths than any other. Most airlines no longer serve peanuts as an in flight snack because peanut oil or dust can induce an allergic response in a person that is highly sensitive to them.
- Tree nuts. Tree nut allergies are more common in children, but do occur in adults, as well. They are distinguished from peanut allergies since peanuts are considered legumes, while tree nuts are considered fruits.
- Seafood. Both fish and fish products, such as imitation crab meat (which does contain fish!), can aggravate allergies. Sauces that contain anchovies (such as caeser salad dressing and Worcestershire) should also be avoided.
- Shellfish. Some people have seafood allergies that are more specific to lobster, shrimp, and other crustaceans.
- Soy. In addition to being a component of many Asian dishes (as soy sauce or tofu, for example), soy is a common component of fast food. Soy meat and soy flour are often used in hamburgers and buns. Soy protein is also found in many sauces (in hydrolyzed vegetable protein), canned broths, bouillon cubes, and food flavorings.
- Wheat. There are many potentially allergenic components in wheat. Given the dominance of wheat products in our diets, this is can be one of the more difficult food allergies to deal with.
Some common food chemicals can also induce allergic responses, such as sulfites, which are commonly used as preservatives in wine, dried fruits, and dried potato products. Food colorings, such as tartrazine (aka Yellow 5), can also aggravate allergies in some people, leading them to avoid food colorings completely. Monosodium glutamate (MSG) is a food additive used to intensify flavor in a variety of soups and sauces that some people also have reactions to. Salicylates found in instant coffee, beer, soy sauce, tomato paste or sauce, honey, and aspirin may also be food allergens in some people.
It is unclear why some people develop hypersensitivities to foods and food chemicals while other don't, though there does appear to be a genetic basis for allergies in general. Very often, children of parents with allergies go on to develop allergies themselves, though not necessarily to the same things. Instead, there appears to be an inherited propensity for developing allergies, perhaps related to the elements of the immune system that respond in these hypersensitivity reactions.
There is a lot of debate about how a mother's diet during pregnancy may influence her baby's development of allergies.Â Â In the late 1990's, the UK government issued an official precautionary notice suggesting that pregnant mothers should avoid eating peanuts or peanut products while pregnant or breastfeeding to reduce the risk of peanut allergies in their children. A study was conducted two years later to test the children for signs of peanut allergy. Of the women surveyed, only 65% said that they followed the advice and did not eat peanuts. Still, out of the 660 children tested, only 13 children showed signs of hypersensitivity. Furthermore, the mothers of 10 of those 13 children had apparently avoided peanuts. 11 of those children did have family histories of allergies, however, so this seems to be a much bigger component of determining food allergies than prenatal diet.
Conventional Treatment of Food Allergies
Food allergies are identified much the same way that other allergies are identified. The initial allergic reaction triggered upon ingestion of the food is the most common way that people learn of their food allergies. If a food allergy is suspected, a "challenge" using the food may be performed under supervision of a doctor, who will look for signs of the allergic response upon the patient's ingestion of the food. Skin tests, in which a small amount of the protein related to the food is injected into the skin to look for inflammatory responses, can also help identify food allergies. If a severe allergy is suspected, a blood test, in which the antibodies in the blood themselves are assayed for recognition of the food allergen, may also be used to avoid risk of anaphylaxis.
Once food allergies are identified, patients are recommended to avoid the foods as best they can. In case of accidental ingestion, people with severe food allergies are often provided with epinephrine injectors, so that they can very quickly treat themselves to ward off anaphylactic shock. If epinephrine is necessary, even if it seems to calm the symptoms, medical attention should be sought immediately. Doctors can more adequately monitor symptoms and help provide respiratory help and more potent anti-allergy treatments should the patient's condition suddenly worsen. Anaphylactic shock is extremely dangerous and can prove fatal if it occurs.
Patients Medical's Treatment of Food Allergies
At Patients Medical, we are equipped help you identify your food allergens through skin or blood tests, depending on the severity of your suspected food allergy. The natural solution to avoiding the symptoms of food-related allergies is to eliminate the offending foods from your diet, and as part of our therapy, we can help suggest safer foods that will be good nutritional substitutes.
For milder food allergies, we may additionally prescribe SpectraZyme®, a nutritional supplement rich in enzymes that may help break down the proteins within the allergenic foods that are inducing your hypersensitivity. This particular formula contains no animal-derived enzymes, so it is also safe for digestive support of those maintaining vegetarian diets. Glutagenics® is another digestive supplement that promotes healthy cell function in the intestinal lining, with licorice and aloe extracts to improve digestion. The glutamine additionally fuels the cells that are rapidly dividing in the intestinal lining.
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