Saturday, February 11, 2012

Avoid Food Allergies

I think my son might be allergic to certain foods but he loves them too much to give them up. How can I ascertain the allergy or rule it out? -Aasha, Jalandhar

The prevalence of food allergies seems to be on the rise but the reason behind it could be that people often confuse food allergies with food intolerances. The signs and symptoms are usually misread, prompting most people to quickly conclude that they are allergic to certain foods, when, in fact, they may just have a food sensitivity or intolerance of some sort. A true food allergy affects the body's immune system, involving an abnormal reaction to an ingredient, (usually always a protein) that is otherwise harmless. Celiac disease is a typical example. 

Food intolerance is a non-immunological reaction to food or food additives that originates in the gastro-intestinal system and involves an inability to digest or absorb certain substances. Lactose intolerance and sulphite induced asthma are common examples. Symptoms of food allergies are not uniform and range from mild (such as an itchy mouth, tongue or hives) to severe (shock or cardiac arrest). 

The most severe food allergy reaction is called anaphylaxis. This infrequent, yet potentially fatal response to an allergen involves several different body systems and results in a number of symptoms- difficulty in breathing, throat constriction, decreased blood pressure and unconsciousness, occuring almost simultaneously, requiring immediate medical attention. Food sensitivities are rarely life-threatening and the symptoms tend to be localised.

Identifying Symptoms
Food allergies may appear at any age, but true allergic reactions to foods are most I think my son might be allergic to certain foods but he loves them too much to give them up. How can I ascertain the allergy or rule it out? -Aasha, Jalandhar common in infants and young children. Common food allergens for children include cow's milk, fish, eggs, peanuts, treenuts (almonds, walnuts, hazelnut), soyabeans and wheat. 

A person who is allergic to one food, may also be allergic to other foods of the same food group. Allergens usually provoke the same symptoms each time, but many other factors such as intensity, quantity of the offending food consumed and method of preparation, define severity of any allergic reaction. Some allergens are easily identified because symptoms will develop immediately after eating the food with the allergen. 

But it may be essential to maintain a food and symptom diary and document the time and content of all the meals and the appearance, timing and intensity of symptoms, if any. After a week or two, a pattern may emerge. If so, eliminate the suspected food from your diet for at least a week, and then re-introduce it in small amounts. If symptoms develop, chances are that the offending food has been identified.

Plan to avoid a food allergy situation:
1. Once allergens have been identified, eliminate these from your diet. 2. Read labels carefully. 3. When eating out, don't hesitate to ask the chef about the ingredients in your food. 4. In case of children and teenagers, parents must inform the school, teachers and friends to help prevent any complications. 5. When traveling, inform your airlines in advance. 6. Avoid cross-contamination by keeping utensils, food containers, cutting boards, serving dishes and even cooking mediums separate for both allergenic and hypo-allergenic foods.

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