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The 411 on Food Allergies

Allergy image
Always read labels carefully to identify the ingredients in packaged foods.

An allergic reaction to a food is an unpleasant reaction caused by the immune system overreacting to a food. The most common type of food allergy is caused by an overly sensitive immune system that creates IgE antibodies directed against an otherwise harmless protein in the food.

Unpleasant reactions to foods not caused by the immune system are con­sidered to be food intolerances. Food intolerances have various causes. For example, a person may lack an enzyme needed to digest a portion of a certain food, as is the case with lactose intoler­ance. Or the food may be contaminated by bacterial or other toxins that cause symptoms resembling those of food allergy, which is what happens when someone has food poisoning.

Since so many people have a nega­tive reaction to a food at some time in their lives, the public perception of the prevalence of food allergy is skewed. In reality, very few people are truly allergic to foods. It is estimated that eight percent of young children, and three to four percent of adults, have food allergies. However, for those who are allergic, it is important to diagnose the allergy and identify the food so that serious, and even life-threatening, reac­tions can be avoided.

There is currently no cure for food allergy, but treatments are being investi­gated. While injectable epinephrine and antihistamines can be used to alleviate symptoms resulting from accidental exposures, the best way to manage food allergies is through complete avoidance of the suspected food.

The following are some tips to help prevent food allergic reactions:
Know the different names of foods to which you are allergic. (For example, lactate solids are a milk product.)
Read labels carefully to identify the ingredients in packaged food.
Ask about ingredients in food served at a restaurant or a friend’s home.
Educate caregivers about food allergies.
Encourage children with food allergies not to eat food given to them by friends.
Have a food allergy action plan.
Always carry injectable epineph­rine (like an EpiPen or AuviQ) and an oral antihistamine as prescribed for emergencies.

You can learn more about your food allergies and how to avoid foods you are allergic to by talking with your doctor or a registered dietitian.

 

Source: National Jewish Health, nationaljewish.org

This article was originally published in Coping® with Allergies & Asthma magazine, Spring/Summer 2016.