“Food allergies are comparatively common. It is estimated they affect at least 5-10% of children and 2-4% of adults in Australia and New Zealand. However, food allergies could be under-reported. As time goes on, and the more that is learned about food allergies, the easier they are becoming to deal with. Allergies can have different effects on different people. Some reactions are mild and others more severe. With the right knowledge, all food allergies can be made manageable. So, how do you know which reactions to foods are due to an allergy and which are caused by something else, like a food intolerance? We’ll help you understand a few common symptoms and causes of food allergies so that you can apply your knowledge to your situation and make your life easier and more comfortable.
What is an Allergy?
An allergy occurs when a person’s immune system over-reacts to substances known as allergens. Almost any food can cause an allergic reaction, but the most common triggers of food allergies are eggs, cow’s milk (dairy), peanuts, tree nuts, sesame, soy, wheat, fish, and other seafood.
What is typically referred to as a food allergy is something that is caused by IgE to a food. IgE is an allergy antibody and causes immediate symptoms like itchy skin, swelling, difficulty breathing, stomach upset and/or low blood pressure. Other people can have immune reactions in their digestive system which causes more delayed symptoms. These people don't have the skin and breathing symptoms of a typical allergy and are not at risk of anaphylaxis
The Common Symptoms of Food Allergies
The symptoms of food allergic reactions can range from mildly inconvenient to potentially life-threatening and can have different effects on different parts of the body. They are sometimes categorised according to the affected organs, which are:
• The skin: hives, eczema, and swelling.
• The respiratory system: the nose, throat, and lungs, such as coughing and wheezing.
• The digestive system: nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea and stomach pain.
• The heart system: feeling faint, weak or pale
When more than one organ is involved, this is known as Anaphylaxis. Allergic reactions can be life threatening, however deaths due to anaphylaxis are uncommon. By careful food allergen avoidance measures, and appropriate administration of an adrenaline (epinephrine) autoinjector, serious consequences of an allergic reaction can be avoided.
The Common Causes of Food Allergies
The reasons for developing food allergies are not entirely known, but any person could develop a food allergy at any age. Specific allergies are not inherited, such as an allergy to peanuts, but the tendency to be allergic is. So, if a parent, grandparent, or sibling has allergies, the likelihood of developing a food allergy yourself can be higher.
Think You Might Have a Food Allergy?
While it can feel a bit scary to find out you may have a food allergy, it can make your life a lot easier knowing why you aren’t feeling 100%, and in turn knowing what foods you may need to avoid going forward.
If you think you are displaying the symptoms of a food allergy, make a note of what you ate, when you ate it, and how you reacted to it. This can help your doctor to determine whether it is an allergy, a food intolerance, or something else. Testing for allergies will help to confirm an allergy if it is suspected on history. Allergy testing for IgE mediated (immediate) allergies is done by skin prick testing and/or blood tests that test for specific IgE against a particular allergen. Non-IgE (delayed) allergy diagnosis involves a trial of eliminating the suspect food from the diet over a period of time followed by reintroduction, which should always be guided by a health professional.
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