Eating and enjoying food is one of life’s simplest pleasures. It also provides us with the sustenance and nutrition we need to grow and thrive. Unfortunately, food allergies are becoming an increasingly common problem; they produce varying types of reactions, some of which are life threatening. There is also a great deal of misinformation about food allergies amongst the public at large.
A food allergy is an inappropriate immune system response to specific proteins in a food. Reactions present in various forms and can range from mild to very severe. The reaction is due to allergic antibodies causing the release of histamine and other inflammatory molecules. While the reactions can vary, they tend to have a specific pattern of symptoms. Unfortunately, reactions can be explosive and severe and life threatening. A food allergy is not to be confused with food intolerances. These conditions can be troubling but in general are not life-threatening. Celiac disease gets confused with food allergies as well.
The most common food allergies are peanuts, tree nuts (such as walnuts, pecans and almonds), fish, shellfish, milk, eggs, soy products, and wheat. Symptoms of food allergies may include rash or hives, eczema, nausea, stomach pain, diarrhea, itchy skin, shortness of breath, chest pain, swelling of the larynx (upper airway), or anaphylaxis,
which can be life-threatening.
An allergist can identify the food to which an individual reacts. It is very important to characterize the type of food reactions, and identify the foods of concern. From these findings, an allergist can prepare a management plan and strategies for the allergy sufferer. The allergist can also navigate the food allergic individual away from potentially cross-reactive foods and discuss food safety. Identification of food allergens, teaching, setting up networks of support, discussing repercussions of diagnosis, and the use of emergency epinephrine are all foundations of food allergy evaluation. One common misconception about food allergies is that developing hives after food ingestion is not serious. In fact, a person who has had hives after food ingestion is at notable risk for a more severe food reaction.
Some food-allergic individuals lose their food sensitivity over time. An allergist is able to track, identify and confirm the loss of sensitivity in these individuals. Often, allergists identify individuals who have been needlessly avoiding foods and are then able to expand their diets. In addition, food allergies are often inherited. When there is a strong family history of food allergies, it can be helpful to have an allergist provide guidance to the expecting parent. Food allergies, even the most severe, are manageable, especially with the support of an experienced allergist.
The Allergy and Asthma Medical Group of the Bay Area has office locations in Walnut Creek, San Ramon, Brentwood, Pleasanton and Berkeley. Our Board Certified Allergists treat both adults and children. We offer extended office hours to accommodate patients with busy schedules.