Written by Oumaima Chemmaa
May is declared as the Food Allergy Awareness Month. The aim is to raise awareness of food allergy, including potentially fatal food allergies perfect time to educate patients, family, friends, school staff, coaches and others about these diseases.
What is Food Allergy?
Food allergy is an immune system reaction that occurs soon after eating a certain food. Even a tiny amount of the allergy-causing food can trigger signs and symptoms such as digestive problems, hives or swollen airways as well as severe symptoms or even a life-threatening reaction known as anaphylaxis.
Food allergy affects an estimated 6 to 8 percent of children under age 3 and up to 4 percent of adults. While there’s no cure, children may outgrow their allergic reactions to milk and eggs. Peanut and tree nut allergies are likely to persist.
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It’s easy to confuse a food allergy with a much more common reaction known as food intolerance. While bothersome, food intolerance is a less severe condition that does not involve the immune system.
Food allergy symptoms are most common in babies and children, but they can appear at any age. You can even develop an allergy to foods you have eaten for years with no problems.
People allergic to a specific food may also potentially react to related foods. A person allergic to one tree nut may be cross-reactive to others. Those allergic to shrimp may react to crab and lobster. Someone allergic to peanuts – which are legumes (beans), not nuts – may have problems with tree nuts, such as pecans, walnuts, almonds, and cashews; in very rare circumstances they may have problems with other legumes (excluding soy).
Negative tests may be handy in ruling out an allergy. In the case of positive tests to foods that you have never eaten but that are related to items to which you’ve had an allergic reaction, an oral food challenge is the best way to determine whether the food poses a danger.
‘Mildly’ or ‘Severely’ Food Allergic?
As a mother of a child with food allergies born in May ( what are the odds), I can tell you that this question is often asked and I wish I could get a pound (or more of course) each time I explain it. I also hope I could make my child mildly allergic or even better, not allergic at all.
While the symptoms of an allergic reaction could be mild or severe, allergists do not like to classify someone as “mildly” or “severely” food allergic – there is just no way to tell what may happen with the next reaction.
Food Allergy Symptoms
Food allergy symptoms usually develop within a few minutes to two hours after eating the offending food. The most common food allergy signs and symptoms include:
• Tingling or itching in the mouth
• Hives, itching or eczema
• Swelling of the lips, face, tongue, and throat or other parts of the body
• Wheezing, nasal congestion or trouble breathing
• Abdominal pain, diarrhea, nausea or vomiting
• Dizziness, lightheadedness or fainting
A food allergy can trigger a severe allergic reaction called anaphylaxis. It can cause life-threatening signs and symptoms, including:
• Constriction and tightening of the airways
• A swollen throat or the sensation of a lump in your throat that makes it difficult to breathe
• Shock with a severe drop in blood pressure
• Rapid pulse
• Dizziness, lightheadedness or loss of consciousness
Emergency treatment is critical for anaphylaxis. Untreated, anaphylaxis can cause a coma or even death. Food allergy reactions are unpredictable. The way your body reacts to a food allergen one time cannot predict how it will respond the next time.
You don’t know if a reaction is going to be mild, moderate or severe. You should always be prepared with emergency medication, just in case. I hope this mini-article has dispelled the misconception of the mild or severe allergic patient.
Food allergies are not only potentially life-threatening, but they’re also life-altering. People with food allergies must always be vigilant to ensure they avoid reactions. Food allergies—and the people who live with them—should always be taken seriously.
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