Symptoms of Food Allergies
Food allergies are immune-based diseases that have become a serious health concern in the United States. An estimated one-fifth of the population believe that they have adverse reactions to food, but the true prevalence of food allergies ranges between 3 and 4 percent in the general population.
Despite the risk of severe allergic reactions and even death, there is no current treatment for food allergies. The condition can only be managed by allergen avoidance or treatment of food allergy symptoms. Fortunately, there are natural allergy fighters that can help to boost the immune system and enhance the gut microbiota, which helps to reduce the development of food allergies and allergy symptoms.
What Are Food Allergies?
Food allergies consist of an immune system response to a disagreeable food. The body senses that a protein in a particular food may be harmful and triggers an immune system response, producing histamine to protect itself. The body “remembers” this and when this food enters the body again, the histamine response is more easily triggered.
The diagnosis of food allergies may be problematic because nonallergic food reactions, such as food intolerance, are frequently confused with food allergy symptoms. Intolerance derived from an immunological mechanism is referred to as a food allergy, and the non-immunological form is called a food intolerance. Food allergies and intolerance are often linked, but there’s a clear difference between the two conditions.
A food allergy comes from a reaction of the allergen-specific immunoglobulin E antibody that is found in the bloodstream. Non-IgE-mediated food allergies are also possible; this happens when someone is exposed to a food that causes signs and symptoms of an allergy, such as allergic contact dermatitis. A food intolerance is an adverse reaction to foods or food components, but not due to immunologic mechanisms.
For example, a person may have an immunologic response to cow’s milk because of the milk’s protein, or that individual may be intolerant to milk due to an inability to digest the sugar lactose. The inability to digest lactose leads to excess fluid production in the GI tract, resulting in abdominal pain and diarrhea. This condition is termed lactose intolerance because lactose in not an allergen, as the response is not immune-based. Food intolerance are nonspecific and the symptoms often resemble common medically unexplained complaints, such as digestive issues.
IgE-medicated food allergies are the most common and dangerous of adverse food reactions; they cause your immune system to react abnormally when exposed to one or more specific foods. Immediate reactions to IgE-mediated food allergies are caused by an allergen-specific immunoglobulin E antibody that floats around in the bloodstream.
When IgE is working properly, it identifies triggers that could be harmful to the body, such as parasites, and tells the body to release histamine. Histamine causes allergy symptoms such as hives, coughing and wheezing. Sometimes IgE reacts to normal proteins that are found in foods — and when the protein is absorbed during digestion and it enters the bloodstream, the entire body reacts as if the protein is a threat. This is why food allergy symptoms are noticeable in the skin, respiratory system, digestive system and circulatory system.
According to a 2014 comprehensive review published in Clinical Reviews in Allergy and Immunology, the prevalence of food allergies in infancy is increasing and may affect up to 15–20 percent of infants. And researchers from Mount Sinai School of Medicine suggest that food allergies affect as many as 6 percent of young children and 3–4 percent of adults. The alarming rate of increase calls for a public health approach in the prevention and treatment of food allergy, especially in children.
Researchers suggest that this increase in the prevalence of food allergies may be due to a change in the composition, richness and balance of the microbiota that colonize the human gut during early infancy. The human microbiome plays a vital role in early life immune development and function. Since IgE-mediated food allergies are associated with immune dysregulation and impaired gut integrity, there is substantial interest in the potential link between gut microbiota and food allergies.
The 8 Most Common Food Allergies
Although any food can provoke a reaction, relatively few foods are responsible for a vast majority of significant food-induced allergic reactions. Over 90 percent of food allergies are caused by the following foods:
1. Cow’s Milk
Cow’s milk protein allergy affects 2 to 7.5 percent of children; persistence in adulthood is uncommon since a tolerance develops in 51 percent of cases within 2 years of age and 80 percent of cases with 3–4 years. Numerous milk proteins have been implicated in allergic responses and most of these have been shown to contain multiple allergenic epitopes (targets that an individual target binds to). IgE-mediated reactions to cow’s milk are common in infancy and non-IgE-mediated reactions are common in adults.
A 2005 study published in the Journal of the American College of Nutritionsuggests that the prevalence of self-diagnosed cow’s milk allergy is 10-fold higher than the clinically proven incidence, suggesting that a sizable population is unnecessarily restricting dairy products (for allergy purposes).
After cow’s milk, hen’s egg allergy is the second most common food allergy in infants and young children. A recent meta-analysis of the prevalence of food allergy estimated that egg allergy affects 0.5 to 2.5 percent of young children. Allergy to eggs usually presents itself in the second half of the first year of life, with a median age of presentation of 10 months. Most reactions occur upon a child’s first known exposure to egg, with eczema being the most common symptoms. Five major allergenic proteins from the egg of the domestic chicken have been identified, the most dominant being ovalbumin.
Soy allergy affects approximately 0.4 percent of children. According to a 2010 study conducted at John Hopkins University School of Medicine, 50 percent of children with a soy allergy outgrew their allergy by 7 years old. Prevalence of sensitization after the use of soy-based formulas is around 8.8 percent. Soy formula is commonly used for infants who are allergic to cow’s milk and research suggests that soy allergy occurs in only a small minority of young children with IgE associated cow’s milk allergy.
Gluten-related disorders, including wheat allergy, celiac disease and non-celiac gluten sensitivity, have an estimated global prevalence close to 5 percent. These disorders share similar symptoms, making it difficult to make a clear diagnosis. A wheat allergy represents a type of adverse immunologic reaction to proteins contained in wheat and related grains. IgE antibodies mediate the inflammatory response to several allergenic proteins found in wheat. Wheat allergy affects the skin, gastrointestinal tract and respiratory tract. Wheat allergy shows greater prevalence in children who commonly outgrow the allergy by school-age.
Peanut allergy tends to present itself early in life and affected individuals generally do not outgrow it. In highly sensitized people, just trace quantities of peanuts can induce an allergic reaction. Research suggests that early exposure to peanuts may reduce the risk of developing a peanut allergy.
According to a 2010 study, peanut allergy affects approximately 1 percent of children and 0.6 percent of adults in the U.S. Peanuts are inexpensive and frequently eaten in unmodified form and as components of many different prepared foods; they cause the largest number of cases of severe anaphylaxis and death in the U.S.
6. Tree Nuts
The prevalence of tree nut allergies continue to increase worldwide, affecting about 1 percent of the general population. These allergies begin most often during childhood, but they can occur at any age. Only about 10 percent of people outgrow tree nut allergies and frequent lifetime reactions caused by accidental ingestion are a serious problem.
Nuts that are most commonly responsible for allergic reactions include hazelnuts, walnuts, cashews and almonds; those that are less frequently associated with allergies include pecans, chestnuts, Brazil nuts, pine nuts, macadamia nuts, pistachio, coconut, Nangai nuts and acorns. A 2015 systematic review found that walnut and cashew allergies were the most prevalent types of tree nut allergy in the U.S.
According to a study published in Clinical Reviews of Allergy and Immunology, adverse reactions to fish are not only mediated by the immune system causing allergies, but are often caused by various toxins and parasites, including ciguatera and Anisakis . Allergic reactions to fish can be serious and life threatening, and children usually don’t outgrow this type of food allergy.
A reaction is not restricted to the ingestion of fish, as it can also be caused by handling fish and intaking the cooking vapors. Prevalence rates of self-reported fish allergy range from 0.2 to 2.29 percent in the general population, but can reach up to 8 percent among fish processing workers.
Allergic reactions to shellfish, which comprises the groups of crustaceans (such as crabs, lobsters, crayfish, shrimp, krill, woodlice and barnacles) and molluscs (such as squid, octopus and cuttlefish), can cause clinical symptoms ranging from mild urticaria (hives) and oral allergy syndrome to life-threatening anaphylactic reactions. Shellfish allergy is known to be common and persistent in adults, and it can cause anaphylaxis in both children and adults; the prevalence of shellfish allergy is 0.5 to 5 percent. Most shellfish-allergic children have sensitivity to dust mite and cockroach allergens as well.
A phenomenon called cross-reactivity may occur when an antibody reacts not only with the original allergen, but also with a similar allergen. Cross-reactivity occurs when a food allergen shares structural or sequence similarity with a different food allergen, which may then trigger an adverse reaction similar to that triggered by the original food allergen. This is common among different shellfish and different tree nuts.
Allergic Reaction Symptoms
Food allergy symptoms can range from mild to severe and, in rare cases, can lead to anaphylaxis, a severe and potentially life-threatening allergic reaction. Anaphylaxis can impair breathing, cause a dramatic drop in blood pressure and alter your heart rate. It can come on within only minutes of exposure to the trigger food. If a food allergy causes anaphylaxis, it can be fatal and it must be treated with an injection of epinephrine (a synthetic version of adrenaline).
Food allergy symptoms may involve the skin, gastrointestinal tract, cardiovascular system and respiratory tract. Some common symptoms include:
- stomach cramps
- shortness of breath
- trouble swallowing
- swelling of the tongue
- inability to talk or breathe
- weak pulse
- pale or blue-colored skin
Most severe food allergy symptoms occur within two hours of eating the allergen and often they start within minutes.
Exercise-induced food allergy is when the ingestion of a food allergen provokes a reaction during exercise. As you exercise, your body temperature goes up and if you consumed an allergen right before exercising, you may develop hives, become itchy or even feel light-headed. The best way to avoid exercise-induced food allergy is to avoid the food allergen completely for at least 4 to 5 hours before any exercise.
These symptoms are easy to spot. There are many that are harder to spot, and you need to work with healthcare providers that have experience in putting this all together for you.
Contact us if you need help in determining an allergy or a treatment. Remember, in the medical books in medical schools, it says, only a mother can determine an allergy .
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