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 "Food Allergies"

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Food Allergies

Food allergies are often misunderstood. There is a great deal of general confusion about them, and they constitute a controversial area within the allergy field of medicine. Oftentimes, what is at first thought to be a food allergy is found to be something else. For example, many people who think they are allergic to foods are merely sensitive to these foods. Others may have enzyme deficiencies which cause them to react adversely to a food in a non-allergic way.

Let's look first at "true" (or "classic") food allergies and how to prevent and treat them. Classic food allergies include allergies to milk, soy, egg whites, shellfish and peanuts. Peanut allergy is a good example to examine, since it is one of the most widely known food allergies and is becoming more and more common. (It is also the food allergy most likely to be fatal). With classic food allergies, your body forms antibodies against the offending food. Even the smell of the food can cause hives in a highly allergic person. That's why peanut allergic persons do not like to fly in planes where nuts are served.

Why is peanut allergy becoming so much more prevalent? The answer is simply that we are eating them more. Peanuts are healthy if you aren't allergic to them , and as we adopt healthier lifestyles, we are incorporating them more often in one form or another into our diet.

Food Allergy Reactions

Reactions that may indicate a food allergy are itchy mouth, "fullness" in the throat, shortness of breath, an intense red, itchy rash all over the body, difficulty breathing, and vomiting. In a worst case scenario, as I mentioned above, a food allergy reaction can result in death. Although severe reactions do occur, milder food reactions are more common. Common mild allergic food reactions would be red, itchy skin with hives or eczema (also called atopic dermatitis), and another type of itchy skin rash which can be caused by eggs and many other foods.

Food Allergy Diagnosis

The best way to diagnose for food allergies are skin testing and RAST (blood) testing. In skin testing, the offending food is lightly scratched into the skin by a disposable plastic "scratcher." If you are allergic, the area gets red and itchy. Its advantages are that the test results are ready within twenty minutes, and that it is cheaper than RAST tests. RAST testing (which measures the presence of certain allergy-inducing antibodies in your bloodstream) is helpful in your family physician's office, where there is no specific allergy specialist who does skin testing. RAST testing is also useful as a confirmation of results from skin testing; in individuals who have a rash on their back which would complicate a skin test; and when only a couple of foods are suspected.

Drew Voight

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Organization provides free information and education on asthma and allergies, as well as links to regional AAFA groups.

Food Allergy.Org
Nonprofit organization dedicated to bringing about a clearer understanding of the issues surrounding food allergies and providing helpful resources.

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