The incidence of food allergies in children is far greater today than before. According to WebMD, a recent survey of children below 18 years of age showed that about 8 percent have an allergy to at least one particular food item. It has also been seen that the severity of allergy is higher now. In the light of these revelations, it is very important to understand all about allergies so that symptoms can be recognized and immediate action can be taken to deal with an allergy attack.
What exactly is a Food Allergy?
Food allergy is a condition in which the immune system of the body reacts adversely to certain kinds of foods because it considers them harmful. This results in a production of antibodies to protect the body from these allergens. Whenever a person eats foods that contain allergens, chemicals called histamine are released to fight them. The symptoms of food allergies are a result of the reaction of the histamine with the allergens.
Food intolerance is another condition that causes similar symptoms. However, this does not involve the immune system, but is a result of the deficiency of certain enzymes that are necessary to digest some foods. So, the body does not take well to those foods, causing symptoms that are similar to allergy. While food intolerance is not potentially dangerous, food allergies can cause a lot of harm to the vital organs of the body.
Food allergies are found to gradually subside as a child grows up. However, in a lot of children, more so in the recent times, allergies are found to continue into adulthood.
Symptoms of Food Allergies
These allergies tend to show up as a problem with the gastrointestinal tract, digestive system and respiratory system of the body. It begins with superficial symptoms such as skin rashes, redness, itching and swelling and then proceeds to more severe reactions. Wheezing, vomiting, diarrheas, difficulty in breathing and drastic fluctuations in blood pressure are among the more serious symptoms. In extreme cases, the child may suffer from anaphylaxis and even die. Most of the symptoms occur within a few hours of consuming the allergenic food.
Common Allergy Causing Foods in Children
Different children are allergic to different foods, and identifying the exact allergen is a challenging task. However, certain foods such as nuts, dairy products, fish, eggs, gluten, shell fish, soy and wheat have been narrowed down as common allergy causing foods. Among these, allergy to dairy, eggs and nuts can continue into adult life.
How is an Allergy Diagnosed?
The most common test to identify allergens is the skin prick test. The test involves introducing a few drops of various purified allergens into the top layer of the skin and evaluating the response to various allergens.
How can Allergies be treated?
Prevention is the only way to avoid the dangerous repercussions of allergies. Some can be eliminated by developing natural immunity through a healthy and nutritious diet. It has also been found that children who are exclusively breastfed for the first year record a lower incidence of allergies.
It is very important to have emergency kits handy in homes of children suffering food allergies. Furthermore, children who are allergic to one kind of food have higher chances of developing allergies to others. As a precautionary measure, it is best to give small quantities of any new food to a child who has a food allergy.
The word allergy generally brings to mind the severe reaction that children suffer when they eat something that acts as an allergen. Yet, unlike the common belief that food allergies are childhood problems, they can occur at any stage in a person’s life. According to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, more than 3% of the adult population suffers from some kind of food allergy. In fact, people who did not exhibit the slightest allergy to certain foods in their childhood may develop an allergy towards them in their adulthood. Read on below to know why this happens and the best ways in which it can be overcome.
What Triggers these in Adults?
The precise reasons for the onset in adulthood are not known. However, doctors have a good idea about what could possibly be the responsible factors. One of the most common causes is use of medications that can change the behavior of immune system with regard to certain foods. It may also arise due to the adult’s low immunity due to a wide variety of reasons such as improper nutrition, excessive stress, other underlying diseases and an unhealthy lifestyle. These are sometimes associated with other allergies such as eczema. In few people, childhood allergies may continue well into adulthood.
It is also noticed that in some adults, they start very mildly and gradually grow more severe. So, it is important to remember the foods that a person that had allergies in childhood, remain cautious when eating those foods. However, there are cases where adults may develop allergies without any of these factors.
Common symptoms in adults can include respiratory and digestive problems along with rashes, swelling, and redness, vomiting and itching in different parts of the body.
Common Allergy Causing Foods
The most triggers for adults are the same as those responsible for the condition in children. Peanuts, dairy products, gluten, fish, tree nuts, shellfish and soy are some foods that can cause a reaction. Interestingly, it has been seen that chocolate is a common problem with adults but not children. Many adults are also found to have a reaction to preservatives, artificial flavors and colors that are used in packaged and processed foods. However, these foods are usually not the sole cause. Reactions like this are very personalized and therefore, it is important to analyze the individuals dietary habits in order to identify the precise allergen.
Different people have different tolerance levels to allergens. So, while some adults can get away with eating one small chocolate bar despite being allergic to it, others cannot withstand even a small bite. Reactions may kick in at the slightest intake of allergens.
Standard drugs that are used to treat the severe symptoms of a food allergy attack are of three different types – antihistamines, steroids and epinephrine which work by improving blood circulation, blocking histamine activity and tranquilizing the immune system respectively. Food allergies are not curable. So the only option is to avoid them and prevention is the best way to stay healthy and safe.