Food Allergies are on the rise and becoming a growing public health concern. Currently 15 million Americans are diagnosed with a food allergy, according to Food Allergy Research and Education (FARE). One in 13 children are affected by food allergies, about two for every classroom. In the U.S., food allergies send a person to the emergency room every three minutes. Even if you don’t have a food allergy, you are likely to know, or will know, someone who does. So it’s important to understand what a food allergy actually is
A food allergy is not a food sensitivity or intolerance. A food allergy does not mean the person you are with is a picky or fussy eater. A food allergy is a serious medical condition that can also be life threatening. A food allergy is a reaction by the body’s immune system when the body thinks certain foods are trying to harm it. When you have a food allergy, the body produces extremely large amounts of an antibody called immunoglobulin E (IgE). Then the body’s immune system mistakingly targets normally harmless proteins and treats these as a threat with attacks that release histamine and other chemicals to fight the “invader,” much like it does with bacteria or viruses. It’s the Ig antibodies that fight the food allergens which the body sees as an “enemy.”
In the U.S. 90% of food allergies are from what’s known as the Top 8. These include milk, peanuts, tree nuts, eggs, wheat, soy, fish, and shellfish. How do you know if you have a food allergy? If you suspect a food allergy, the Mayo Clinic advises you to see an Allergist who will discuss the foods you eat and reactions you are getting. Your doctor may prescribe an Elimination Diet where you eliminate offending foods for a few weeks and then gradually add the foods back into your diet and watch for a reaction. Next, your doctor may do a Skin Test where a small amount of the suspected food is placed on the skin of your arm or back. Your skin is then pricked with a needle to allow a very small amount of the substance beneath the skin’s surface.
Your doctor will watch to see if you develop a raised bump or other reactions. Blood tests can also check for the IgE antibodies and another test done in the doctor’s office is an Oral Food Challenge. With this test you’ll be given increasing amounts of the suspected food to see if there’s a reaction. Often a combination of all these tests is conducted to get a definitive diagnosis.
Future Blog Postings will discuss reactions to food allergies, the treatment of food allergies, and ways to live and thrive with a food allergy.
Do you have a food allergy? Do you know someone with a food allergy? Tell us how food allergies impact your life.