Coping with, Preventing and Treating Food Allergies

food_allergy_peanutsIn the US alone there are as many as 7 million people living with a life threatening food allergy many of which are related to the peanut family.   The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a report this past October showing that food allergies are on the rise in children, with three million children in the U.S. now having at least one food allergy, an 18 percent jump from 10 years ago.  Milk allergy is the most prevalent type of food allergy.

Food allergy or food intolerance? It’s important to know the difference.

“If you have a food allergy, eating even the smallest amount of that food may trigger a serious reaction,” says James Li, M.D., Ph.D., Mayo Clinic allergy specialist, in the December issue of Mayo Clinic Women’s HealthSource. “With food intolerance, you may be able to eat small amounts of problem foods without a reaction.”

With an allergy, the immune system mistakenly identifies a food as harmful, triggering immunoglobulin E (IgE) antibodies to fight the substance. Signs and allergy symptoms usually develop within minutes and may include tingling in the mouth, hives, swelling of the lips, face, tongue and throat, wheezing or breathing difficulties, dizziness, abdominal pain, diarrhea, nausea or vomiting. In severe cases, the airway can constrict.

Allergies can be diagnosed with skin and blood tests. Diagnosing food intolerance is a bigger challenge, requiring a thorough health history. Foods can trigger symptoms for a number of medical conditions, such as irritable bowel syndrome, acid reflux and migraine.

A fatal food allergy can kill in two different ways. The first is from swallowing the food which causes instant swelling in the vocal cords, quickly stopping the breathing, and almost instantly killing before anyone recognizes what is going on. This is called laryngospasm. The second we are all more familiar with and it is called anaphylactic shock where it can take as long as two hours for the reaction to occur,  and it will kill if intervention is not sought.  Eighty percent of fatal or near fatal anaphylaxis cases in this country come from peanut allergy.

There are some excellent natural remedies that can help treat a non-life- threatening food allergy. A food allergy is a reaction by the body’s immune system which is designed to fight disease and bacteria keeping us safe but sometimes it misfires.

For a mild to moderate food allergy you can look to some natural herbs and supplements for relief. (See articles on this website.)  You can also increase the amount of cold water fish your child eats or you can give them a fish oil supplement. You should also eliminate trans fats from their diet and increase the amount of fresh fruits and vegetables they eat.

And of course you can always eliminate the food that causes the food allergy from your child’s diet.  For example if your child is allergic to dairy products restrict the child’s intake. This only works however if there is only a few food allergies. If your child is allergic to many foods you will want to look at alternatives.

Of course you will still most likely have to eliminate the source of the food allergy until your child becomes desensitized. With serious food allergies such as nuts do not play around trying to home treat. You should also make sure your child always has an anaphylactic kit on them and make sure everyone that will come in contact with your child and could be feeding him fully understands this food allergy whether its  peanut allergy, gluten allergy, wheat allergy or another type.

General guidelines suggest delaying the introduction of the most common dangerous food offenders for as long as possible in children–at least until age two. Exclusive breastfeeding the first four to six months of life appears to decrease the probability of subsequent food allergies.  The American Academy of Pediatrics offers the following guidelines on when to introduce certain foods:

After age one – cow’s milk
After age two – eggs
After age three – fish, shellfish, peanuts and tree nuts (such as almonds,
cashews, and walnuts).

The good news is that most children allergic to milk, soy, egg and wheat will lose their sensitivity as they grow.  About 2 percent will have food allergies as adults.

A study led by the John Hopkins Children’s Center, and conducted jointly with Duke University, showed that giving children with milk allergies increasingly larger doses of milk over time may ease milk allergy.  It may even help them completely overcome it.

The Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act (FALCPA), an FDA law implemented in January 2006, requires allergens to be listed on food labels in easily understood language. Always look at the listings on labels to determine the presence of the eight major allergens.

The eight most common food allergens are milk, eggs, peanut allergy, tree nuts, soy, wheat allergy, gluten allergy,   fish, and crustacean shellfish. These eight foods cause 90 percent of food allergies.

Over 90 million Americans have a genetic variant that makes them sensitive to gluten.  Many people don’t know they are gluten sensitive because it can cause symptoms that don’t involve the gastrointestinal (GI) tract, like infertility and decreased cognitive function.

Since food and beverage manufacturers are continually making improvements, food-allergic persons should read the food label for every product purchased, each time it is purchased.   Would you suspect peanut contamination in frozen Chinese eggs rolls?  You should.

Other practical tips to manage food allergies:

1.  Plan ahead.  Make a list of foods that you like and can tolerate and find
recipes for them.  Consult with a dietician and dietary alternatives for
recipes that aren’t on your allergy list.  Try your local library for recipes
or to find allergy specialists who can provide more information on avoiding
food sensitivities and food allergies.

2.  When you are dining out, call the restaurant beforehand and let the chef or
host/hostess know about your dietary needs and restrictions.  Find out if
it is permissible to supply your own food.  Will they adapt the menu for you?
Discuss everything before you go so that you won’t be tempted to indulge in
trigger foods no matter how small your reaction to them.

3.   Take extra food supplies with you when you go out.  You may be gone from
home longer than you expect, and having food packed and with you can
reduce the temptation to buy foods from vending machines or restaurants
that may trigger your food allergy.

4.  Keep your list of foods that you tolerate well in your food diary.  Keep a foods
eaten and symptoms experienced diary so that when you do have a reaction
you can pinpoint the trigger and avoid it in the future.

5.  Let everyone know if you have a life-threatening allergy.  Get an ID  bracelet
with the allergic foods listed in case of a reaction so severe you can’t speak
so someone can help you.

6.   Bake and freeze favorite foods so that you have entrees and desserts when
others are eating foods to which you are allergic.

7.  When traveling abroad, be sure and have some allergy translation cards you
can show in stores and restaurants of various countries.   Also, when arriving
in a foreign city, make finding a near hospital or doctor your first priority.

Keeping a handle on food allergies can be a bit more problematic in younger children.   It is important that all caregivers, teachers, parents of new friends, and anyone else the child may be exposed to are fully aware of the allergy and its seriousness.

Natural relief of food intolerances and mild to moderate allergic reactions:

Some people with food allergies and food intolerances are finding relief in a bacteria known as lactobacillus acidophilus.  It is growing in popularity as an allergy treatment and provides natural allergy relief.  This treatment is also known as probiotics.  This good bacterium is vital in the resistance of a variety of infections to which humans are susceptible.

Some of the benefits of a probiotic such as lactobacillus acidophilus are that:

1.  It replaces the good intestinal bacteria that have been destroyed by antibiotics.

2.  It aids in digestion.

3.  It enhances immune response.

4.  It lowers the risk of activating allergies, including allergy asthma, hay fever,
skin reactions such as hives and food allergies.

Lactobacillus acidophilus supplements comes in granule, powder or capsule form, as well as liquid forms that must be refrigerated.  It is found naturally in foods such as milk and yogurt that contain L. acidophilus cultures.  (Read the labels.)

Give your body a good chance of overcoming allergy symptoms but don’t rely on the bacteria completely if you suffer from life-threatening allergies that could result in anaphylactic shock or laryngospasm.  Anaphylactic shock can take up to two hours for the reaction to occur.  Without intervention it is fatal.  Laryngospasm is the result of instant swelling in the vocal cords which quickly stops the breathing and can kill before anyone realizes what is going on without intervention.

Dining Out with Food Allergies

A recent survey of food establishments and restaurants reveals that for diners with food allergies eating out is a greater risk than they may realize.  A unique study found that food allergy training was conducted in only 42 percent of personnel at the 100 restaurants and food establishments surveyed.  This study was published in the “Annals of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology,” the scientific journal of the American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology (ACAAI).

Approximately 90 percent of food managers, servers and chefs reported varying degrees of comfort with providing a safe, non-allergenic meal, but numerous misconceptions were disclosed.  For example, 24 percent of restaurant personnel thought that consuming a small amount of allergen is safe.  Thirty-five percent thought that fryer heat destroys allergens.

Registries of food allergy reactions in restaurants accounted for up to 25 percent of accidental exposures in persons with peanut allergy and tree nut allergies.  Fifteen of 32 fatal reactions to foods began from food obtained in a restaurant or food establishment.

You must be vigilant.  It is not enough to let the staff know you or your child have food allergies.  You must question the contents, preparation, contamination with other foodstuffs, and ask all other questions that seem pertinent.  This study carries an important lesson for allergic diners.

Keep your emergency medications, especially self-administered epinephrine syringes, with you when eating out.  Avoid problematic menus and dishes such as buffets and sauces.  Have a “Chef Card” listing allergies printed up to hand to restaurant staff to start a conversation towards having a safe meal.

Food allergies can be life threatening.  Knowledge about food allergies can save a life.

For more information:American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology (AAAAI)
555 East Wells Street, Suite 1100
Milwaukee, WI 53202-3823
Patient information and Physician Referral Line:  (800) 822-2762.
www.aaaai.orgThe Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Network
11781 Lee Jackson Hwy
Suite 160
Fairfax, VA 22033
(800) 929-4040


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