MSc in Biochemistry having close to 5 years of experience in the Pharmaceutical industry. A passionate writer, ardent art lover and astute observer on a quest for answers and insights from every experience life offers.
Deciphering Food Allergies
20 July 2021
Let`s begin by first understanding what are allergies? An allergy occurs when our body`s immune system identifies a substance as harmful “allergen” and triggers an immune reaction against it. The immune system responds by producing antibodies called immunoglobulin E (IgE), against the allergen and the resulting symptoms that we experience such as sneezing, shortness of breath, swelling, hives etc is what we call an allergic reaction.
How food allergy is triggered?
The immune reaction against an allergen is not immediate; the sensitivity develops gradually over a course of few days or sometimes years, after immune system first encounters the allergen. This process is called “sensitization”.
During an allergic reaction two parts of the immune system come into play, one is the antibody immunoglobulin E (IgE) which moves through the blood and the other is “Mast Cells”, which are present in all body tissues especially in places like nose, throat, lungs, digestive tract and skin.
Soon after you consume the food item you are allergic to, the mast cells attached to IgE release chemicals called Histamines, which depending on the tissue they are in, trigger various symptoms like, inching in mouth, sneezing, belly pain, vomiting, diarrhoea etc.
Which are the most common food allergies?
· Tree nuts
· Crustacean shellfish
What causes food allergies?
Quite frankly, researchers and scientists are not completely sure what exactly causes food allergies, but they do believe that genetics has a huge part to play. If your parents or someone in your immediate family have allergies, you are at a higher risk of developing allergies.
Also being allergic to one substance increases the chances of developing more allergies. Some researchers also believe that altered gut bacteria could be causing food allergies and managing the gut bacteria may help overcome the allergy.
Common tests to diagnose food allergies.
· Skin test: In this test, a small amount of the suspected food item is applied on the skin of your forearm or back. The doctor then pricks the skin patch with a needle so as to allow a small amount of the food item to enter the skin. If you are allergic to the food item, a raised bump or reaction will be seen.
· Blood test: In this test, blood sample is collected and tested in laboratory against different food samples to detect the immunoglobulin (IgE) reaction for each food sample.
· Food elimination test: In this test, the doctor asks to eliminate all suspected food items from the diet and adds one item at a time back to the diet to check for reaction.
· Oral food challenge: This test is performed under doctor`s supervision only. In this test small amounts of the suspected food item is administered gradually to check for the symptoms.
Treating Food Allergies.
Taking medication will not cure allergy but will help manage the symptoms to certain extent. Many over the counter medicines are available in the market which can provide immediate relief and curb the allergic reaction. But it is advisable to take these medications only under the guidance of a physician.
Some common treatments used are:
Antihistamines: these block the histamines released by immune system during allergic reaction.
Decongestants: these helps relive blocked nose.
Immunotherapy: also called the process of desensitization, where small amounts of the allergen are introduced in the body, which allows the body to get used to the allergen.
Corticosteroids: these drugs reduce swelling and many other allergic symptoms.
Epinephrine: this drug is given only during severe allergic reactions
How to manage food allergies?
· Avoid the problem food completely. As long as possible the best way to manage food allergy is to avoid consuming the food item you are allergic to completely.
· Check the labels for presence of allergen containing ingredients before buying any food packets.
· Be careful while eating outside. Check with the waiters before ordering, make sure your food preparation is free of allergen ingredient.
· Be prepared with an action plan. In case you do happen to consume food, you are allergic to, have a step wise written plan ready to be followed to avoid any health emergency.
· Always keep medication handy. It is advisable to carry prescribed medicine with you at all times.
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