Food allergies are a common and increasingly frequent problem. Our modern diet, consisting of prepackaged and prepared foods with a variety of ingredients and sources, makes it very difficult to avoid certain substances. Although allergen labeling has certainly helped to some degree, those that suffer from food allergies must always be vigilant.
If you or a loved one has food allergies, you probably have many questions regarding the causes, symptoms and diagnoses. Accent Allergy, your Gainesville, FL allergy specialists, is here to help with answers, knowledge, treatment and care.
What Causes Food Allergies?
Food allergies work a little differently than allergies to things like pollen and nickel. Although, like other allergies, food allergies are caused by an immune response, it is the protein in the food itself that triggers that response.
When most people think of “proteins,” they think of meat and fish. While these foods certainly contain protein, so do many other components of our diet. In fact, any food that is derived from animals can contain protein, in addition to a large number of plant products.
In allergic people, certain proteins cause their immunoglobulins to trigger a response, just like they would for an invading virus. This hyperactive response then causes allergy symptoms.
The reason people get food allergies isn’t entirely known. There certainly seems to be a hereditary component, but two allergic people can still have children that are not allergic. There is also evidence to suggest that foods ingested very early in life may play a role in the future development of allergies.
Do I have a food allergy or a food intolerance?
Though the symptoms are often similar, there is a distinct difference between a food allergy and a food intolerance. Allergies trigger an actual immune response and can be life-threatening. For some people, just touching or inhaling particles from foods to which they are allergic can cause a major reaction.
What are the Symptoms of Food Allergies?
Contrary to what you might see in movies, the vast majority of food allergies do not cause dramatic facial swelling and shortness of breath. In fact, most people experience their food allergies as a mild reaction. For example, those who are allergic to milk might get an upset stomach and constipation if they eat dairy products. People who are mildly allergic to wheat may experience abdominal cramping.
Other common reactions to food allergies include hives, a skin rash, swelling of the face, lips or tongue, nausea, diarrhea and itching. Sometimes, children outgrow their food allergies, although this certainly doesn’t occur in every case.
Of course, there are those patients who are extremely allergic to certain foods. In these cases even minimal contact with a food allergen can cause anaphylaxis, a life-threatening reaction. Such individuals should always carry an EpiPen® or other adrenaline delivery device and must always be on guard to avoid foods containing their allergen.
What are Some Common Food Allergies?
- Peanut allergy – Although technically a legume rather than a nut, peanuts are by far the most common food allergen. The symptoms can range from a mild rash to almost instant anaphylaxis, based on your individual sensitivity. In fact, some people are so allergic that even inhaling a small amount of peanut dust in the air can cause an allergic reaction.One difficulty with peanut allergies is that peanuts are a very common ingredient in our prepackaged foods. They can be found in many candies and even plain chocolate. Additionally, many foods are cooked in peanut oil, which can trigger a reaction in very sensitive people.
- Tree nuts allergy – Tree nut allergies include a large number of different types of nuts: coconuts, Brazil nuts, walnuts, cashews, chestnuts, hazelnuts, macadamia nuts, pistachios, pecans, walnuts, pine nuts and others. Unfortunately, those who are allergic to tree nuts usually do not outgrow their allergy. Furthermore, most patients are allergic to several of the above nut types rather than a single kind.
- Milk allergy – A milk allergy is not at all the same as lactose intolerance. Lactose is a type of sugar. Those allergic to milk have a reaction to one of the many proteins found in dairy products, such as whey proteins or casein. Symptoms are usually limited to stomach upset or a rash, but can include more severe issues, such as difficulty breathing.
- Egg allergy – Eggs are full of protein and those that suffer from egg allergies have developed a reaction to one or more proteins in either the egg white or yolk. This type of allergy is found mainly in children and is often outgrown. However, those with egg allergies need to be careful about receiving certain immunization shots, as some vaccines contain egg products.
- Wheat allergy – A true wheat allergy, versus gluten intolerance, is rare. Those who suffer from wheat allergies usually have been exposed to large amounts of wheat or flour as an agricultural worker or baker. The most common symptoms are rashes and hives.
- Soy allergy – A soy allergy is the result of hypersensitivity to proteins found in the soy bean. Unfortunately for soy allergy patients, simply avoiding tofu and soy milk is not enough. Soy is found in a variety of sauces, dips, and is often an ingredient in fast food hamburger buns.
- Fish and shellfish allergy – Floridians certainly love their seafood, but allergies to fish and/or shellfish are among the most common of food allergy types. Although they mainly affect adults, children can be victims as well. Fish and shellfish allergies are often severe, resulting in serious, life-threatening symptoms.
- Sesame allergy – Sesame seed allergies are often see in patients who are also allergic to other foods. In addition to plain sesame seeds and sesame seed buns, an allergic reaction can also be triggered by sesame seed oil, generic “vegetable oil” which often contains sesame, tahini oil, perfumes and skin care products. This allergy is most commonly seen in very young children.
How are Food Allergies Diagnosed?
There are several methods used at Accent Allergy to confirm food allergies. These include:
- IgE skin testing: This type of testing involves looking for an immunoglobulin E response to a certain allergen. A small amount of the food allergen is placed under your skin by a small prick. The area will turn red and swell if you are allergic. The entire test takes less than 30 minutes.
- Blood testing (a.k.a. RAST testing): If you have a skin condition, such as eczema, radioallergosorbent (RAST) testing makes a good alternative to IgE skin testing. This is simply a basic blood draw that is sent off to a laboratory. Although the test is very accurate, results won’t be immediately available.
- Elimination diet: This is a noninvasive way of checking for allergies that is especially useful when multiple food allergies are suspected. Under the supervision of one of the specialist doctors at Accent Allergy, you’ll remove suspect foods from your diet one at a time. This will allow your doctor to find out which food is causing your allergy symptoms.
Treatment and Management
Food allergies are mainly managed through avoidance. The allergy specialists at Accent Allergy will guide you and help you with avoiding foods that contain your specific allergen.
You’ll also need to stay aware. Read packaging labels to make sure they don’t contain your trigger food(s) and always ask about any dishes you order at restaurants. Remember to never become complacent. It’s all too easy to miss an ingredient if you’re not watchful.
Be sure to talk with your Accent Allergy doctor about other treatment options.
If you or a family member suffers from food allergies, suspect you might have one or more food allergies, or want to know more about food allergies, contact us! Our Gainesville allergy specialists will be happy to consult with you and get you on track to a healthier and happier life.
Accent Allergy & Sinus Center | 4340 W Newberry Rd #301 | Gainesville, FL 32607 | (352) 271-5389