Understanding Food Allergies
American Chiropractic Association 2009 Apr;46(3):21-22
|Abstract: This patient education article discusses the differences between food allergies in children and adults, food items that often cause problems, how the careful shopper can try to avoid foods that could cause serious reactions, and the difference between a true food allergy and a food intolerance.|
|Food allergies occur if your immune system has an abnormal response to an otherwise harmless food or food component. Once the immune system mistakenly decides that a particular food is dangerous, it creates specific antibodies to it. The next time you eat that food, the immune system releases massive amounts of neutralizing chemicals, including histamine, to protect the body. These chemicals trigger a cascade of allergic symptoms that can affect the respiratory system, gastrointestinal tract, skin, and/or cardiovascular system.
Food allergy patterns in adults often differ from those in children. The most common foods to cause allergies in adults are shrimp, lobster, crab, and other shellfish; peanuts; walnuts and other tree nuts; fish; and eggs.
In children, eggs, milk, peanuts, soy, and wheat are the main culprits. Children typically outgrow these allergies, whereas allergies to peanuts, tree nuts, fish, and shrimp usually are not outgrown. Unlike children, adults usually do not lose their allergies.
According to researchers from the National Institutes of Health, you’re more likely to develop food allergies if several members of your family have allergies. This includes any type of allergy—even hay fever.
What are the common symptoms of food allergies?
It’s critical for people who have food allergies to identify them and to avoid foods that cause allergic reactions. Some foods can cause severe illness and, in some cases, a life-threatening allergic reaction called anaphylaxis, which can constrict airways in the lungs, severely lower blood pressure, and cause suffocation by the swelling of the tongue or throat. Research suggests that people with asthma are particularly at risk for anaphylactic reactions.
What is a food intolerance?
According to the Cleveland Clinic, a food intolerance is a digestive system response rather than an immune system response. It occurs when something in a food irritates a person’s digestive system or when a person is unable to properly digest or break down the food—often owing to a lack of a specific enzyme. Intolerance to lactose, found in milk and other dairy products, is a very common food intolerance. It’s important to distinguish food intolerance from food allergy. If you have a food allergy, eating even the tiniest amount of the food may trigger a serious allergic reaction. By contrast, if you have a food intolerance, you can often eat small amounts of the food without a reaction.
How are food allergies managed?
Because of a new law, the Food and Drug Administration now requires ingredients in a packaged food to appear on its label. You can avoid most of the foods to which you are sensitive if you read food labels carefully. In addition, avoid restaurant-prepared foods that might contain ingredients to which you are allergic.
Patients with severe allergies and a high possibility of anaphylaxis are often advised to carry a pre-loaded syringe containing epinephrine (adrenaline) for emergency treatment. Milder allergies can be treated with an antihistamine.
Can a chiropractor help treat my allergies?
A Guide to Reading Food Labels