How common is Food Allergy and why does it seem so much more common?
Nearly 4% of children and 2% of adults have food allergies. There is some evidence that the presence of food allergy is increasing, but the reason that this may be occurring is not fully understood yet.
What is Food Allergy?
Food allergy is defined as an allergic reaction to a food allergen (usually the protein portion of the food). In a patient with a food allergy, he/she has specific antibodies called IgE antibodies that recognize specific food allergens. The binding between the food allergen and the food specific IgE molecule then lead to allergic symptoms. Food allergy is typically immediate (occurs within 6 hours of ingestion) and reproducible (occurs with each ingestion). Food allergy predominately occurs with ingestion of the food although a smaller group of food allergic patients may react with skin symptoms after skin contact with a food allergen. Aerosolized food allergen reactions can occur but are very rare and are more common with fish and shellfish allergy.
What are common Foods associated with Food Allergy?
Although nearly any food can be associated with an allergic reaction, most patients with Food Allergy are allergic to one of the following foods: Milk, Egg, Peanut, Tree Nut, Shellfish, Fish, Soy and Wheat. We offer testing for all of these foods as well as many other foods.
What symptoms are associated with Food Allergy reactions?
Food Allergy reactions can involve almost any part of the body including skin symptoms (hives, itching, rash and/or swelling),oral or mouth symptoms (throat or tongue itching and/or difficulty swallowing), GI symptoms (nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and/or abdominal cramping), respiratory symptoms (coughing, wheezing, or trouble breathing), dizziness, lightheadedness, or loss of conciseness. Most patients will NOT have ALL of these symptoms. Skin symptoms are usually but not always present with food allergic reactions.
Why should I have my Food Allergy diagnosed?
The benefit for having a Food Allergy diagnosed or confirmed is several fold. Once a Food Allergy is confirmed, we can educate you on avoidance strategies to minimize your risk for an accidental exposure and symptoms. Additionally, we can provide you with an Action Plan for those accidental exposures and symptoms. Finally, for a percentage of patients, the Food Allergy may resolve or be “out grown” and allergists offer the expertise on following the condition as well as the prognosis.
How is Food Allergy diagnosed?
Food Allergy is diagnosed through a combination of historical reactions and symptoms with testing. The testing for Food Allergy is confirming the presence of specific IgE (an antibody) to a specific food allergen either through a skin test or a blood allergy test. Neither test by itself is enough to diagnosis food allergy, rather a positive test should also be correlated with positive symptoms during a previous exposure. For some or our patients, an oral challenge is necessary to confirm a food allergy and these are typically completed in our office under direct physician supervision.
How is Food Allergy treated?
The current treatment strategy for Food Allergy is to minimize exposures and subsequent reactions or symptoms. This is best done through avoidance of the food allergen. During your appointment, we will discuss tactics for avoidance through reading labels and through education of those around you. Because studies show that accidental exposures will occur for most patients despite their best attempts at avoidance, we will also recommend a symptom treatment strategy or an Anaphylaxis Action Plan.
How is Food Allergy different then Food Intolerance?
Food allergy vs food intolerance is a common problem. Food intolerance is sometimes confused with food allergy. Food intolerance is an abnormal response to a food or food additive that is not an allergic reaction. That is, skin testing or blood allergy testing is negative because it is NOT mediated by the allergic antibody, IgE. An example of food intolerance that is NOT a food allergy is Lactose Intolerance. Lactose intolerance is a reaction (abdominal discomfort, bloating, gas and/or diarrhea) to the milk sugar (lactose) due to a lack of an enzyme to break down or digest this sugar. We can help you determine the difference between intolerance and allergy and help you in establishing a management plan.