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Food Allergy
  • Nutrition

Food Allergy

Could you have a food allergy?

Food is not only delicious, it is also an important source of energy and fuel for our body. Food keeps us alive and active. Our food comes from different plants and animals (and their products), which have evolved together over a million years on the planet.

But not every human body is able to digest all the food that is available to us, about 5% of people have a food allergy. Strikingly, 90% of all food allergies are caused by a handful of foods: nuts, fish, milk, eggs, soya and wheat.

The causes of food allergies

A food allergy is caused by the presence of an allergic reaction to a particular protein after ingestion. The immune system is activated and immunoglobulin E (IgE) and other substances are triggered to clean up the protein. These substances spread through the body through the body and the cleansing histamine is released.

Histamine causes the following symptoms of allergies:

Sneezing

Swelling of the respiratory tract

Vomiting

Gastrointestinal pain

What should you do if you have an allergic reaction?

An allergic reaction can range from mild symptoms to anaphylaxis. An anaphylactic shock can be life-threatening and endanger the entire cardiovascular system. Therefore, it is vital to correctly diagnose and control food allergies.

Always seek medical advice after a suspected allergic reaction. During the consultation, a doctor will determine whether there is a clear connection between the intake of the food and the symptoms, and other possible causes such as infections and inflammations.

Food intolerance

It is also important to distinguish between food intolerance and food allergy. In the case of intolerance, similar symptoms occur, but more gradually. However, these are not caused by the immune system, but because of the lack of an enzyme, which causes the substance to not be properly absorbed by the intestines, or as a direct consequence of the absorption of the substance into the bloodstream.

Lactose intolerance

The best-known example is lactose intolerance. Over 10 percent of the population lacks the enzyme lactase, which is necessary for lactose to not be digested. Gluten intolerance (coeliac disease, not to be confused with a gluten allergy) is also very common. People suffering from this are intolerant of wheat and other cereals. Other intolerances include fructose, sucrose, salicylate and egg intolerance. Salicylates are found, for example, in aspirin and ibuprofen.

types of diets

Food allergy testing

To find out if there is a food allergy, a food test can be done. In a mild form of allergy, a suspicious food is removed from the diet for some time and then added again to see if a reaction occurs. In severe forms of allergy, a controlled examination takes place in a hospital with test foods.

Further tests are dependent on the individual case, but possible tests are a skin prick test that pierces an allergen in the skin, blood tests for IgE levels and RAST (Radio Allergo Sorbent Test) where the blood is examined for antibodies.

If you have an allergy, what next?

If an allergy or intolerance has been diagnosed, it can be controlled in two ways:

1. Avoid exposure to the products. This means reading all labels in stores and asking what ingredients are in a dish when eating out.

2. Protection against symptoms upon exposure. A mild allergy might need antihistamines and steroids, while adrenaline injections can prevent anaphylactic shock for those with severe allergies.

Children often grow out of their allergies (typically to cow’s milk and eggs), but unfortunately, adults do not. It is, therefore, extremely important to keep a close eye on the control of an allergy.

© Syed Z Arfeen
Medical Advisor
July 2017