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A new food allergy diagnosis-beginner’s guide

Dr. Sonja Burmeister, OTD, MSPA-C, OTR/L, EICP-OT

Discovering that you or your child has a food allergy is life-altering.  Suddenly food, the source of nourishment, becomes a threat.  It affects so many areas of your life; your routines, your social gatherings, your child’s self reliance.  Having a food allergy can be scary, but arming yourself with the knowledge and the right tools to adapt to your new life can be the best way to confidently manage your child’s health and wellbeing. 

A food allergy occurs when your body mistakenly recognizes food as something harmful, which results in your body mounting an immune response to that food.  Your body releases immunoglobulin E (IgE) to neutralize the offending allergen.  A cascade of reactions ensue, including the release of histamine, which causes some of the symptoms we identify as “allergic reactions.”  Reactions to food allergens range from mild to severe.  Seeking medical care for the acute and chronic management of this health condition is essential.

Statistics on Food Allergies:

Food Allergy Research & Education (FARE) reports that 32 million Americans suffer from food allergies.  Following are the prevalence of self-reported allergies:

  • Milk: 1.2% to 17%
  • Egg: 0.2% to 7%
  • Peanuts and fish: 0% to 2%
  • Shellfish: 0% to 10%
  • Any food: 3% to 35%

Mayo Clinic estimates that 6-8% of children under the age of 3, and nearly 3% of American adults suffer from food allergies.  Although there is no cure, some children will outgrow their food allergy as they reach adulthood.

Meeting with an Allergist:

Your allergist will run a battery of tests, including blood tests and skin “scratch” tests to determine what the cause of the allergic reaction was and to discern the severity of your body’s reaction to the allergen.  Lung function tests are also conducted to measure how well your lungs can respond to an allergic reaction and maintain stable breathing.  Medications will be prescribed, often an antihistamine or inhaler, as well as an Auvi-Q, Epi-pen or other form of epinepherene to manage severe reactions.  These medications should always be readily available to you or your child.

Unfortunately for many individuals, food allergy is discovered by accidental exposure. Your Allergist does their best to test for potential allergies however occasionally some are missed.  In the case of my son, he had 3 separate episodes of allergic reactions to different types of food that we were not aware he was allergic to.  One alternative to formal clinical testing may be home testing kits, such as Inner Health that test more than 1,000 potential allergens, as well as looking for intolerances and sensitivities.  

There are emerging products on the market that allow for home testing of food “reactivity” to assist with food elimination diet as well (such as Everlywell).

In summary, living a life with food allergies is different, but not impossible. Educating ourselves about potential allergens, partnering with a quality healthcare team, and being prepared in the event of an exposure is the best we can do to live a happy, healthy and normal life.

References:

https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0091674907009918

https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/food-allergy/symptoms-causes/syc-20355095

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