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You've gone out for dinner and cleaned your plate. Now your stomach is churning, or maybe your skin is itching. You may believe you are having an allergic reaction to something you ate. You are not alone. According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), millions of Americans suffer these symptoms, leading them to suspect they have a food allergy. The truth is food allergies, according to the FDA, affect a relatively small percentage of us. The FDA says an estimated two percent of adults, and from two to eight percent of children, are truly allergic to certain foods. (Read about "Allergies") Even though both can involve the digestive tract (Read about "Digestive System"), food intolerance and food allergy are two distinctly different problems. Food intolerance does not involve the immune system (Read about "The Immune System"), whereas food allergy does.
How the body handles the offending food is how you can differentiate between a food allergy and intolerance. According to the FDA, in a true food allergy, the body's immune system reacts to the allergen, usually a protein, by producing antibodies to fend off the attack. As the two fighting forces clash, symptoms begin to develop throughout the body. The most common sites of the body to suffer are the following, according to the FDA.
The greatest danger in food allergy comes from a violent reaction involving a number of parts of the body at the same time. Anaphylaxis, also known as anaphylactic shock (Read about "Anaphylaxis"), can produce severe symptoms in as little as five minutes. The FDA lists these signs of the life threatening reaction:
Experts advise those who might be susceptible to anaphylaxis to carry medication, like epinephrine, at all times.
Adults and children alike can suffer with food allergies, but according to the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) while adults usually do not lose their allergies to food, children can outgrow them. Although any food can trigger an allergic reaction, eight top the list as the most common, according to the Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Network (FAAN). FAAN says the following eight foods and their sources account for 90 percent of all food-allergic reactions.
Milk allergy is not the same thing as lactose intolerance; milk allergy is an immune system response, whereas lactose intolerance develops when the body lacks a digestive enzyme (Read about "Lactose Intolerance")
Wheat allergy is not the same as celiac disease, an absorption disease, triggered by gluten. (Read about "Celiac Disease")
In both children and adults, the foods they react to are usually the ones they eat often, according to NIAID.
According to the FDA, genetics may play a large role in allergies. Some studies suggest that breastfeeding (Read about "Breastfeeding"), and avoidance of major food allergens by the mother, may deter some food allergies in children. The FDA says most people who have true food allergies also have other types of allergies, like dust or pollen. (Read about "Dust Allergies" "Pollen Allergies")
According to NIAID, diagnosing a food allergy takes time and patience, as well as a detailed patient history. When a diagnosis can't be made on the basis of history, the patient may be asked to keep a record of every meal he or she eats, and track whether there was any reaction. The next step, according to NIAID, might be an elimination diet. Under the doctor's care, the suspect foods are eliminated from the patient's diet. If symptoms go away, the physician can almost always make a diagnosis. Skin tests are fast and relatively safe, but a patient can have a positive test to a certain food allergen without ever experiencing an allergic reaction. In extremely allergic patients, skin testing cannot be used because of the potential for a dangerous reaction. For these patients, NIAID says a blood test could be used. (Read about "Laboratory Testing")
Unfortunately, there is no cure for food allergies, but once a patient and doctor discover which foods trigger a reaction, the food can be avoided. Dietary avoidance, according to NIAID is more than just taking away one food at a time. Patients must read the list of ingredients on any food they want to eat.
Because foods that can trigger allergic reactions are so common, people with food allergies should talk with their doctor about carrying injectable epinephrine. Epinephrine can help to counteract a severe allergic reaction. (Read about "Anaphylaxis") You should also discuss with your doctor, and your children's doctor, any food allergies when you are getting immunizations. (Read about "Immunizations") Some people, who are allergic to eggs or geletin, can have allergic reactions to components of vaccines.
All Concept Communications material is provided for information only and is neither advice nor a substitute for proper medical care. Consult a qualified healthcare professional who understands your particular history for individual concerns.
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