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Food Allergies

So what is a food allergy?

A food allergy is when your immune system reacts to the protein that is in the food you have consumed.

This reaction can cause you to have symptoms which can range from being mild to severe. Food allergies most commonly develop before the age of five but can develop at any age.

Most commonly, children will outgrow their food allergy, however, allergies to peanuts, tree nuts, sesame, and seafood will continue lifelong for around 75% of cases. When a food allergy develops for the first time in adulthood, it generally continues long term.

Food allergy signs and symptoms

For most allergens it only takes a tiny amount to cause a reaction in someone who is allergic. Symptoms can develop within 30 minutes of coming into contact with the allergens. Signs and symptoms can vary depending on the individual and what the allergen is. Signs or symptoms of a reaction can include:

  • Hives
  • Swelling around the mouth
  • Vomiting
  • Stomach pains
  • Diarrhoea
  • Anaphylaxis – which may include any of the following: difficult breathing, swelling of the throat or tongue, difficulty talking, wheezing or coughing, dizziness

These food reactions can range from mild (e.g. swelling / itchy mouth) to severe (eg. anaphylaxis). Symptoms develop due to how your body responds to the protein in the allergen.

Your body develops antibodies to fight the allergen (almost as if it was bacteria) in the body, even though the allergen is harmless.

Food allergies are very common and affect 1 in 10 infants and around 2 in 100 adults.

Although allergies can be dangerous for some people, they can be easily managed if the correct management steps are taken. Being aware of your food allergy is extremely important in ensuring you can avoid a reaction.

Diagnosis of Food Allergies

A food allergy should always be confirmed by a medical professional to ensure your safety. Unfortunately, there are a lot of unproven testing methods for ‘diagnosing’ food allergies such as cytotoxic food testing and kinesiology.

These are often expensive and lead to incorrect diagnosis and sometimes dangerous avoidance of certain foods or food groups. Your doctor will be able to give you information on diagnosing your food allergy correctly and can refer you to an immunology or allergy specialist if necessary. By doing so, this will ensure you are obtaining a correct diagnosis so you can manage your allergy safely.

Tips for managing your food allergy

Unfortunately, there is currently no cure for food allergies. As a result, it is important you adhere to a strict diet to avoid foods containing your allergen. This is critical to the management of food allergies and will assist you with avoiding a reaction.

Some helpful tips for managing you food allergy are listed below:

  • Be aware of the early signs and symptoms of an allergic reaction and be aware of the steps to take in an emergency
  • Carry your epi-pen (if prescribed) and know how to correctly use it. An epi pen is used for individuals with a severe allergy such as anaphylaxis. The epi-pen is a needle that releases adrenaline. Not everyone requires an epi-pen – it depends on the severity of your allergy. Your doctor will be able to give you more information on this.
  • Obtain an ASCIA Action Plan. The Australasian Society of Clinical Immunology and Allergy (ASCIA) is the peak professional body of allergy and immunology in Australia & New Zealand. The action plans via the society are designed to assist those with severe allergic reactions such as anaphylaxis and assist them in managing their allergy safely to avoid a reaction.
  • Know what foods contain your allergen and those foods that are considered high risk of contamination. This will help you to know which foods to avoid so you can prevent a reaction from occurring.
  • Learn how to read food labels correctly. This will assist you in identifying whether a food contains your allergen. Food labels can change frequently so it is important you check the food label each time before consuming to prevent a reaction if the product has changed without warning. An Accredited Practicing Dietitian (APD) is able to help you with this!
  • Avoid having the allergic food in your house. This will help to assist in avoiding accidentally eating it.
  • Be assertive and ask questions when you are eating at a friend’s house or dining out. Be sure to check ingredients, food preparation, and storage. Make it a priority to information restaurant managers about your allergies so they can assist you in the best way possible.

Why is there a rise in food allergies?

There is no clear research as to why there is a rise in food allergies. There have, however, been a few suggestions as of why there may be a rise in allergies.

These include:

  • Hygiene hypothesis – less exposure to infections in early childhood, resulting in an increased risk of allergy
  • Development of allergy to food by skin exposure such as the use of unrefined nut oil based moisturisers.

How to avoid a reaction?

Depending on the severity of your allergy, it is absolutely necessary to be prepared with medications just in case you are caught off guard.

  • Avoid Consumption – avoid consuming the food that may set off an allergic reaction. If you are unsure or if there is any doubt, it is best to avoid eating the food.
  • Read labels – some foods have different names, it is important to familiarize yourself with the different names for certain foods (eg. Soy – soya,). With the strict food standards in Australia, food labels must list the nine most common allergens (peanut, tree nuts, milk, egg, fish, shellfish, sesame, soy and gluten containing cereals) in a particular food, so make sure you bring your awareness to this when reading labels.
  • Ask before you eat/Cross contamination – if you are dining out, or at a friends place, don’t be afraid to ask how, where the food is prepared and if it contains the food of which you are allergic

In Conclusion

Food allergies can not only be something that determines your lifestyle choices, but also something that is potential life threatening.

At Exact Physiology we have an in house dietitian who is more than capable of helping you plan out a safe and healthy diet which supports your allergies.

Source: NEMO – Food allergies: general information and management guide

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