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Food Allergies: Causes, Diagnosis and Treatment


Food allergies occur when your body's immune system overreacts to exposure to a particular food. Food allergy symptoms are most common in babies and children, but in some cases they can appear at any age. Even though allergic reactions are often mild, they can be very severe in some cases causing inflammation of the body's tissues. Foods are responsible for the majority of allergic reactions and some are listed below;
  • Cow's Milk
  • Eggs
  • Fish
  • Peanut
  • Shellfish
  • Soy
  • Tree nuts
  • Wheat

Causes

Certain causes put you at great risk for having a food allergy.

Immune system

An allergic reaction to food involves two components of the immune system. One component is a type of protein, an allergy antibody called immunoglobulin E (IgE), which circulates through the blood and can mistakenly target a certain protein found in food as a threat, causing several chemicals to be released, the most important being histamine that stores up in the other components mast cell, which is found in all tissues of the body. The mast cell is particularly found in areas of the body that are typically involved in allergic reactions, including the nose and throat, lungs, skin, and gastrointestinal tract.

Family history

Generally, people with allergies are inherited and come from families in which allergies are common. If your parents, brother or sister have allergic condition, like asthma, eczema , pollen, fur or a food allergy, you have a slightly higher risk of developing a food allergy. However, there is a probability that you may not develop the same food allergy as your family members.

Diagnosis

If you think you or your child have food allergies, take an appointment from a qualified medical professional, such as a board-certified allergist. An allergist will recommend some allergy tests and will consider a number of factors before making a physical examination and diagnosis. These factors are;

History Of Allergy Symptoms

For diagnosis of food allergy, allergists ask detailed questions about the history of allergy symptomsGive your doctor an answer and detailed history of your symptoms like questions about the specific food you eat, the quantity you consume, length of time that seems to cause problems and how long they lasted.

Family History

Many food allergies are first diagnosed in young children, however they may also appear in older children and adults. Share information during interview about your family members who have of any kind of food allergy.

Physical Examination Test

Allergist will perform a physical exam and may conduct a test to identify an allergy. These tests may include:

Skin Test

Skin prick tests are conducted in health professional office or by an allergist and gives results within 15 - 30 minutes. In this allergy skin test, a very small drop of a liquid suspected food extract, one for each food, is placed on the skin. Then the doctors prick skin lightly. This is safe and in most cases not a painful test. Within 15 to 20 minutes, a raised bump or reaction with redness around it, similar to a insect bite from a mosquito, may appear. It shows that you probably are allergic to that particular food and in that case you may need food allergy treatment.

Blood Test

Blood test is less sensitive than skin prick test. Blood test can measure the amount of immune system's response to specific foods by measuring the allergy-related antibody known as immunoglobulin E (IgE). Blood test can be organized by your doctor in which the blood is taken and sent in to a medical laboratory. The test results are usually ready in one to two weeks, reported as a numerical value. 

Food Challenges

Some people conduct test which may result as "allergic" to a food (by skin or blood testing) and yet have no symptoms when they eat that food. To confirm test results, your allergist may ask you to do a challenge test. This means that you have to eat very small amounts of the suspect food or drink  in increasing amounts over a period of time to see if an allergic reaction occurs. If you don't have a reaction during this test, you may be able to include this food in your diet again. This is usually done under an allergist's supervision and symptoms are observed.

Food Elimination and Reintroduction

This is a time consuming method and this test is best to be carried out under the supervision of an allergist. The particular food or foods are excluded from a diet for a period of time and symptoms are observed and recorded. If symptoms improve then the specific food is reintroduced. If you have had a severe reaction to a food and symptoms return then this would indicate that there is a problem with that suspected food.

Symptoms

Symptoms of food allergy appear within a few minutes after eating the specific allergic food, and affect many parts of your body. Some of which are listed below;

Digestive System

These symptoms are present more in children and rare in adults.
  • Abdominal pain
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhoea
  • Itching in the mouth and throat
  • Rectal Bleeding 

Skin

  • Itching
  • Swelling (rash or nettle rash)
  • Redness
  • Atopic Dermatitis
  • Hives

Respiratory System

  • Runny nose
  • Sneezing
  • Wheezing
  • Cough
  • Itching
  • Trouble in breathing
Symptoms of food allergies vary from mild to severe. The most severe life threatening reaction is Anaphylaxis. Initial symptoms of anaphylaxis are often the same as those listed above and can lead to
  • Increased breathing difficulties – such as wheezing, cough and body shock.
  • Intense feeling of anxiety and fear
  • Rapid heartbeat (tachycardia)
  • A sharp and sudden drop in your blood pressure, which can make you feel lightheaded and confused
  • Unconsciousness
Seek medical help immediately if you are having any of these symptoms.

Treatment 

Because food allergies can be mild to severe, they contribute to other health problems. The major treatments are;

Avoid Allergic food

The best treatment to manage a food allergy is to avoid eating the food that causes you problems. Carefully check ingredients and labels of food products of each prepared food that you are considering eating, and learn whether what you need to avoid is known by other names.

Treating the Symptoms of Anaphylaxis

Epinephrine (adrenaline) medication is the major treatment for anaphylaxis, which results when exposure to an allergen causes a flood of chemicals that can send your body into shock. Anaphylaxis can occur within seconds or minutes of exposure to the allergen which can worsen quickly and can be fatal.

Auto-injector of adrenaline is used in case of emergencies if you or your child is at risk of anaphylaxis. Your allergist should prescribe one and teach you how to use it. Three main types of auto-injectors are EpiPen, Jext, Emerade and all work in the same way.

Treating Other Symptoms

Many medications are accessible for treating the other symptoms of food allergy. Such as antihistamines which are used to treat mild to moderate allergic reaction. It can cure gastrointestinal symptoms, hives, sneezing, and a runny nose. A bronchodilator are used as a quick relief or rescue medication for asthma patients. 

"Watching what you eat"  has a different meaning when you have a food allergy.





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