Food allergies are an immune response triggered by perceived threats to the body. These reactions can vary from minor irritation to anaphylaxis – a potentially life threatening condition. Normal function of our immune system identifies and removes these potential threats to the body by creating antibodies.
In some cases however this immune response gets confused and certain foods or specifically the proteins they consist of allergens. This can trigger an often inflammatory response of varying severity that can affect the skin, airways, sinuses or digestive system.
Why Do We Develop Food Allergies?
Little is understood about why we develop food allergies although they are known in some circumstances to be genetically carried. Some allergies may be outgrown in childhood, while others develop later in life. Much research is currently underway to try and expand our understanding of food allergies. Especially since the occurrence of various food sensitivities and intolerances are increasing, particularly in children.
According to the ‘Australasian Society of Clinical Immunology and Allergy’ hospital admissions for food related anaphylaxis has doubled. And this has been just in the last ten years. This is true both for adults and increased almost five fold for children under the age of 4.
What Are Some Options of Care?
Few treatment options exist and avoidance is the best and often only option when faced with known food allergies. In severe reactions the protein responsible is generally obvious with symptoms appearing almost immediately. Most often requiring emergency medical intervention. Peanuts, tree nuts (such as cashews) and shellfish are the most common foods associated with such life-threatening episodes.
Mild reactions are often harder to diagnosis as they can occur hours after the problem food was consumed. Certain symptoms especially in younger children or infants may be harder to recognize and associate with dietary activities. For instance in cases such as infantile colic, reflux, or failure to thrive.
What are Some Triggers?
Certain foods are known to have a higher incidence of triggering reactions. For instance, cow’s milk, eggs, soy products, peanuts, tree nuts, sesame, wheat, fish and shellfish. When allergy symptoms are suspected further testing or implementation of an exclusion diet may be carried out. This is useful to determine the trigger (or triggers) responsible. Certain blood and skin prick tests are available to identify or indeed exclude specific allergens.
There is an increasing recognition of the triggers associated with allergies by the food provider chain as well as sufferers and their families and carers. Improved labeling of foods which may contain life-threatening allergy triggers is of great assistance to those at risk. An added bonus of such labeling is the increase in public awareness of the dangers of food allergies. This does not lessen the need for constant vigilance on the part of the allergy sufferer.
The risks associated with food allergies unfortunately cannot be treated, they can however be minimized by careful planning. In some cases antihistamines may be administered to control or relieve mild symptoms, while emergency treatment is required in the event of severe anaphylactic responses.
Individuals with known severe allergies often carry an ‘epipen’ or epinephrine auto-Injector which can rapidly reverse the effects of anaphylaxis. Identification, exposure management strategies and education; including emergency first aid of care givers (particularly in children) are the most important issues when dealing with food allergies and their associated symptoms.
If you are seeking a more holistic approach to managing your food allergies, please don’t hesitate to give our office a call.
Traditional Doctor of Naturopathy