Food allergy occurs in around 5-10% of children and 2-4% of adults in Australia and New Zealand.
90% of food reactions are caused by ten allergens: peanut, lupin, tree nuts, egg, cow’s milk products (dairy), sesame, shellfish, fish, soy and wheat. However, any food has the potential to cause an allergic reaction.
Allergic reactions to foods range from mild to severe. Mild to moderate symptoms of food allergy include swelling of face, lips and/or eyes, hives or welts on the skin, stomach (abdominal) pain and vomiting.
Severe allergic reactions (anaphylaxis) affect breathing and the heart, and can therefore be life threatening. Most deaths due to anaphylaxis can be prevented by careful food allergen avoidance measures and immediate administration of an adrenaline (epinephrine) autoinjector.
The most common foods that cause anaphylaxis are peanuts, tree nuts, shellfish, milk and egg.
Most food allergies in children are not severe, and may be ‘outgrown’ with time. Peanut, tree nut, seed and seafood allergies are less likely to be outgrown and tend to be lifelong allergies.
Adverse reactions to foods that are NOT allergy include food intolerances, toxic reactions, food poisoning, enzyme deficiencies, food aversion or irritation from skin contact with certain foods. These adverse reactions are often mistaken for food allergy.
What is the difference between an allergy and intolerance?
A true food allergy causes an immune system reaction that affects numerous organs in the body. It can cause a range of symptoms including difficulty breathing, exhaustion, headaches, migraines, itchy skin, hives, furry tongue, blurred vision, pain and digestive issues. In some cases, an allergic reaction to a food can be severe or even life-threatening.
In contrast, a food intolerance is generally less serious and often limited to digestive issues (symptoms such as bloating, flatulence, abnormal bowels, cramping, reflux etc). In the case of a food intolerance, individuals may be able to eat small amounts of the offending food without trouble. In addition, the intolerance may be prevented through taking supplements, for example digestive enzymes, where there is sugar malabsorption.
Food allergy = immune system reaction to a food
Food intolerance = inability to digest a food
Prevention of a food allergy
Recent studies have shown that delayed introduction of solid foods to babies (after 12 months of age) can increase the chance of developing food allergies. It is therefore now recommended that solid foods are introduced to babies around 6 months, but not before 4 months, to help prevent food allergies developing.
Diagnosis of a food allergy
Doctors usually perform skin testing or order blood tests for allergen specific Immunoglobulin E (antibodies) that help to identify or exclude potential food allergy triggers. Sometimes a medically supervised food allergen challenge is required to confirm or exclude food allergy.
What to eat?
Dietary avoidance for food allergy should only be undertaken under medical and dietitian supervision, to prevent malnutrition and other complications such as food aversion or disordered eating. It is important to keep in touch with your Medical Practitioner and Dietitian after learning what to eat, because things can change. We do not want you to unnecessarily avoid food. Some people "out grow" their food allergy, this is more so in children. But some food allergy stays with a person for life or symptoms get more severe with age.
Living with a food allergy doesn't need to be boring and it should not restrict you to your home. Seek professional advice.
For more information visit www.allergy.org.au/patients/food-allergy
Allergy & Anaphylaxis Australia www.allergyfacts.org.au is a patient support organisation that offer updates and advice for people with allergies.
Thank you to ASCIA for this information © ASCIA 2018
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