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Food Allergies

People must be aware of food allergies. They also need to identify the foods that their digestive system simply cannot process. One good example is the condition of lactose-intolerance among many individuals. It may surprise others to know that this situation is not a case of food allergy but intolerance. Meaning, the particular person’s body is not capable of processing lactose-rich food such as milk.

Understanding the distinction between these two cases will likely help you find a workable and effective solution to your food allergies, if you do have one. Statistics have shown that food allergies rarely occur among older individuals. Children who are under 6 years old are more prone to develop a certain level of food allergy. Approximately 6% to 9% are affected by a true food allergy.

A food allergy usually happens when your immune system detects something in your food and sees it as a threat to your body. In effect, the body produces histamine to defend against these harmful substances. For highly allergic people, their immune system tends to excrete alarming amounts of histamine, which leads to allergic reactions or symptoms. These can either be mild manifestations or it could be more fatal.

Common Symptoms

When the immune system identifies a particular food as harmful, it reacts with mild to life-threatening symptoms. Symptoms can occur immediately or within only a few minutes. Sometimes, signs of a food allergy appear a couple of hours after eating an irritating food.

A small amount or repeated ingestion of an offending food can signal an allergy. Every person has a different reaction, but many often experience similar symptoms. Some of these can affect a person’s digestive system or the entire body.

Symptoms include the following:

  • Tingling or itching in the mouth
  • Rash, hives, itching or eczema
  • Swelling of the lips, face, tongue and throat
  • Inflammation of other body parts
  • Wheezing, nasal congestion or shortness of breath
  • Abdominal pain, diarrhea, nausea or vomiting
  • Dizziness, lightheadedness or fainting
  • Chest pain
  • Sudden drop in blood pressure

Some of the most severe symptoms are trouble swallowing and breathing. These life-threatening reactions require immediate medical attention.

Diagnosis

First, a detailed medical history is taken to determine if specific foods, food intolerance or other medical issues have prompted allergic symptoms. This important diagnostic tool will identify telltale signs of a food allergy. Some questions during this process explore the time involved during the onset of an allergic reaction, connections to particular foods, amounts eaten and many other details.

Sometimes, a diet diary reveals patterns pointing to food allergies. By process of elimination, attempts are then made to cut suspected culprits from the diet. Skin-prick tests, which place a small amount of food extract under the skin’s surface, are also used for an accurate diagnosis; swelling or redness at the insertion point indicates the presence of a food allergy.

A blood sample can also help during the diagnostic process. Like positive skin-prick tests, those for drug allergies do not always indicate a food allergy. Instead, this information is factored in with other details in a patient’s medical history for an accurate diagnosis. Another option for identifying food allergies involves eating particular foods, which may prompt an allergic reaction. Because reactions may be extreme, a physician should always monitor this test.

Treatment

To avoid an allergic reaction, offending foods are eliminated from the diet. Occasionally, someone may not realize that a specific food is part of a recipe and experience another allergic reaction.

In mild cases, over-the-counter or prescribed antihistamines may help ease symptoms such as itching or hives. When someone has an extreme allergic reaction, an emergency injection of epinephrine and a trip to the emergency room may be required. Many people with allergies must always carry a special device, called an epinephrine autoinjector, for quick access to a single dose of medication.

Additional research is currently under way to find other effective treatments. At this point, the best treatment for food allergies is avoidance of the problematic food or medication when necessary. As part of a treatment plan, it is important to let others know about food allergies and enlist their help in avoiding those foods.

Read food labels carefully, and learn alternative names for offending foods, which are sometimes listed. If your doctor has prescribed an allergy kit, learn how to use the syringe and always keep it with you. Check the expiration dates on the medicines, and replace any needed for food allergies regularly.

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