Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Health Care and Food Allergies 2012

Millions of Americans suffer from food allergies, and there are deaths every year associated with this life threatening health issue. Some food allergies are minimal, and some are critical. According to The Food Allergy Network, food allergy occurs when the immune system mistakenly attacks a food protein. Ingestion of the offending food may trigger the sudden release of chemicals, including histamine, resulting in symptoms of an allergic reaction. The symptoms may be mild (rashes, hives, itching, swelling, etc.) or severe (trouble breathing, wheezing, loss of consciousness, etc.). A food allergy can be potentially fatal. Scientists estimate that as many as 15 million Americans suffer from food allergies.

A skin prick test or a blood test (such as the Immulite or ImmunoCap test) for IgE antibodies is commonly used to begin to determine if an allergy exists. A skin prick test is usually less expensive and can be done in the doctor’s office. Positive skin prick tests or immunoassay test results will show that IgE is present in the body, but cannot alone predict that a reaction will occur if the patient were to eat a suspected allergy-causing food. The results of the tests are combined with other information, such as a history of symptoms and the result of a food challenge to determine whether a food allergy exists.

According to the Mayo Clinic, in some people, a food allergy can trigger a severe allergic reaction called anaphylaxis. This can cause life-threatening symptoms, including:

--Constriction and tightening of airways.
--A swollen throat or the sensation of a lump in your throat that makes it difficult to breathe.
--Shock, with a severe drop in blood pressure.
--Rapid pulse.
--Dizziness, lightheadedness or loss of consciousness.
--Emergency treatment is critical for anaphylaxis. Untreated, anaphylaxis can cause a coma or death.

Exercise-induced food allergy:

Some people have an allergic reaction to a food triggered by exercise. Eating certain foods may cause you to feel itchy and lightheaded soon after you start exercising. In serious cases, an exercise-induced food allergy can cause reactions such as hives or anaphylaxis. Not eating for a couple of hours before exercising and avoiding certain foods may help prevent this problem.

Pollen-food allergy syndrome:

In many people who have hay fever, fresh fruits and vegetables and certain nuts and spices can trigger an allergic reaction that causes the mouth to tingle or itch. In some people, pollen-food allergy syndrome — sometimes called oral allergy syndrome — can cause swelling of the throat or even anaphylaxis. This is an example of cross-reactivity. Proteins in fruits and vegetables cause the reaction because they're similar to those allergy-causing proteins found in certain pollens. For example, if you're allergic to ragweed, you may also react to melons; if you're allergic to birch pollen, you may also react to apples. Cooking fruits and vegetables can help you avoid this reaction. Most cooked fruits and vegetables generally don't cause cross-reactive oral allergy symptoms

Strict avoidance of the allergy-causing food is the only way to avoid a reaction, according to the Food Allergy Network. Reading ingredient labels for all foods is the key to avoiding a reaction. If a product doesn’t have a label, individuals with a food allergy should not eat that food. If you have any doubt whether a food is safe, call the manufacturer for more information. There is no cure for food allergies. Studies are inconclusive about whether food allergies can be prevented. Epinephrine, also called adrenaline, is the medication of choice for controlling a severe reaction. It is available by prescription as a self-injectable device (EpiPen® or Twinject®). Much more info can be found on their site: http://www.foodallergy.org/.
 
According to the NY Times, The only proven treatment for a food allergy is to avoid the food. Other treatments, including allergy shots and probiotics, have not been clearly proven to help with food allergies. If your child has a problem with cow’s milk formula, your health care provider may suggest trying a soy-based formula or something called an elemental formula, if available. If you suspect you or your child has a food allergy, consult an allergy specialist. If you have symptoms on only one area of the body (for example, a hive on the chin after eating the specific food), you may not need any treatment. The symptoms will likely go away in a brief time. Antihistamines may relieve the discomfort. Soothing skin creams may provide some relief.

Consult your doctor if you think you have had an allergic reaction to food, even if it is only a local reaction. Anyone diagnosed with a food allergy should carry (and know how to use) injectable epinephrine at all times. If you develop any type of serious or whole-body reaction (even hives) after eating the offending food, inject the epinephrine. Then go to the nearest hospital or emergency facility, preferably by ambulance. Seek immediate medical attention after injecting epinephrine for a food reaction.

Avoiding the offending foods may be easy if the food is uncommon or easily identified. However, you may need to severely restrict your diet, carefully read all package ingredients, and ask detailed questions when eating away from home. Symptoms usually begin immediately, within 2 hours after eating. Rarely, the symptoms may begin hours after eating the offending food. If you develop symptoms shortly after eating a specific food, you may have a food allergy.

Breastfeeding new borns and infants may help prevent allergies. Otherwise, there is no known way to prevent food allergies except to delay introducing allergy-causing foods to infants until their gastrointestinal tract has had a chance to mature. The timing for this varies from food to food and from baby to baby.
 
If your children suffer from food allergies, a good website for info can be found here: http://www.kidswithfoodallergies.org/. And according to this website, http://www.uptodate.com/contents/patient-information-food-allergy-symptoms-and-diagnosis,  anyone who has signs or symptoms of a food allergy should see their healthcare provider. Between 20 and 30 percent of people report food allergy in themselves or their children. However, only 6 to 8 percent of children under the age of five and 3 to 4 percent of adults have a true food allergy. Laboratory testing and/or skin testing is often used to confirm the food allergy and determine if avoidance of a particular food is necessary. During a medical history, the healthcare provider will ask questions about the person's past allergic reactions:

•What symptoms of food allergy did you have?
•What particular food do you think provoked the reaction? Have you eaten this food before? Have you reacted before?
•How much of this food did you eat?
•What other foods did you eat at that time? Do you know all the ingredients of the food you ate? Include all foods: appetizer, main dish, sauces, dressings, breads, beverages, and side dishes.
•How was the food prepared? As an example, could the food have been fried in oil used to prepare other foods?
•Were any of following eaten: peanuts, tree nuts, shellfish, fish, milk, eggs, wheat, or soy?
•How much time passed between eating the food and the first symptoms?
•Did you exercise or exert yourself after eating?
•Did you take any medications, herbs, vitamins, non-prescription medications, or drink any alcohol before or after eating?
•How was the reaction treated? Did it resolve without treatment or did you take any medications? How long were the medications continued and were there any later symptoms?

Depending upon the answers to these questions and the physical examination, the healthcare provider may decide to order laboratory testing. In other cases, the provider will refer the person to a specialist (allergist or gastroenterologist) for further evaluation.

Food allergies should not be taken lightly, especially in children. One wrong bite could send you or your child to the emergency room. Be careful about ingesting items that cause physical symptoms that could lead to severe reactions or death. Make sure you educate yourself about the limits to your diet, and other food options that serve as viable substitutes when preparing meals or eating out. Always talk with the restaurant manager if you have an issue with severe food allergies. They typically are used to dealing with food allergies and will go out of their way in most cases to avoid a situation that could be potentially life threatening. For all medical or health related questions about food allergies, visit your primary care physician, or allergy specialist.

Until next time.

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