The topic of food allergy has gained much interest and popularity recently. Considerable new information as well as misinformation has been provided in magazines, television as well as on the internet. Many medical conditions have been attributed to food without the proper rigorous scientific study. This can lead to much confusion and money wasted on unproven treatments.
Food allergy falls in the larger category of adverse reactions to foods. These reactions include lactose-intolerance, celiac disease, irritable bowl syndrome, scombriod poisoning (unrefrigerated fish), food poisoning, sensitivity to food additives and food dye. Behavior problems have also been attributed to food without proper scientific proof.
Allergic reactions to food involve the immunoglobulin protein IgE which is found in blood and tissues. This protein mediates allergic reactions, such as, hives, swelling, wheezing, throat tightness that may leading up to anaphylactic shock. Anaphylaxis is the most dangerous form of food allergy that may cause death. In the U. S. more people die of anaphylaxis to food then to bee, wasp or hornet stings combined. Fortunately these reactions are rare and what is most commonly experienced are hives, swelling, wheezing, vomiting and diarrhea. Itchy throat and mouth from fresh tree fruit is common when tree pollen allergy is very strong.
Often the offending food is obvious because most allergy reaction occur within one hour of food ingestion. Common food allergens are different for children that adults. In children milk, egg, peanut, soybean and wheat allergy is seen. Seafood, peanut and tree nuts are the most common foods that produce allergy in adults. Nevertheless many more foods have been documented to produce allergic reactions, although their incidence is rare. Eczema from food is more difficult to diagnose because the onset of rash occurs slowly and does not resolve quickly.
The diagnosis of food allergy requires a good observation and history. Both allergy skin testing and blood testing for food has been proven helpful but often not sufficient. The gold standard is an oral trial to the suspected food or foods. The exception is if anaphylaxis to the food is suspected.
The treatment if simple, is often difficult to accomplish, food avoidance. In spite of best intentions, allergic foods may be “hidden” in prepared food or at parties. Labeling may be misleading as well as confusing. In cases of anaphylaxis and Epi-Pen injector is prescribed, a Med-Alert bracelet is recommended and immediate 911 call must be placed. In the New York City school system, nurses have an important role in keeping students safe from food allergy. Allergy Food Network & Foundation (www.foodallergy.org) is available to get and share information regarding food allergies.
Food allergy is a real and dangerous medical condition. Proper diagnosis, counseling, and treatment, will reduce the risk of serious reactions and injury