Food Allergies From A to Z: Learn to Manage Them Better

From Anaphylaxis to Zits, Tips on How to Cope

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Learning to live with food allergies just got easier. Take a look at this A to Z guide to help you lead a safer, happier and easier life with your food allergies in check. 

Anaphylaxis

Anaphylaxis is a severe, life-threatening allergic reaction that requires immediate attention. It can occur within seconds or minutes of ingesting something that contains an allergen. The severe reaction involves the whole body and results in a release of histamine, among other chemicals, that causes the airways to tighten and leading to other symptoms.

Without immediate medical attention, this allergic reaction can result in your airway tightening and closing, making it impossible to breathe. It is very important that anyone with an anaphylactic allergy carry auto injectable epinephrine in the case of an emergency.

Blood Test

In order to understand your food allergies, you should talk to your doctor about getting blood tests. In many cases, your doctor will order a series of blood tests in order to confirm the presence of a food allergy. These blood tests will measure the presence of IgE antibodies to specific foods. 

Cross-Contamination

Many people who have food allergies react to tiny amounts of the allergenic food. Therefore, for those suffering with food allergies, it is critical to avoid the possibility of cross-contamination.

Cross contamination can occur when a small amount of a food allergen comes in contact accidentally with another food. For someone with food allergies this can pose a life-threatening situation, as an allergic reaction can ensue. It is very important to understand the proper kitchen and food safety when preparing food to avoid contamination.  

Dairy

A dairy allergy is among one of the top eight most common food allergies. In fact, an allergy to cow’s milk is the most common allergy among infants and toddlers. While a great number of children outgrow their dairy allergy by age three or four, others do not.

Symptoms of a dairy allergy can range from mild to severe, with some having an anaphylactic response if ingested. For those with a dairy allergy, it is important to find non-dairy substitutes to include in the diet to meet daily calcium needs, which range from 200 mg for young infants to 1,300 mg for teenagers and 1,200 for some adults.

Elimination Diet

In order to determine if someone has a food allergy, your doctor may recommend you try an elimination diet. By doing an elimination diet, you may be able to isolate which foods may be causing a reaction (and potentially rule out other foods). This can help you and your doctor to determine if you really have a food allergy. 

Food Allergy

A food allergy is the body’s abnormal immune response to food. The body’s immune system is responsible for keeping you healthy by fighting off any infections. In the case of a food allergy, the immune system overreacts to a food, believing to be a foreign invader. This triggers a protective response. The reaction can be mild to severe, and may require immediate medical attention. More than 50 million people have been diagnosed with a food allergy. Food allergies can afflict children and adults, and may develop at any time. 

Gastrointestinal Symptoms

Many food allergies can result in gastrointestinal symptoms, including vomiting, abdominal pain, diarrhea or constipation. As your body responds to the allergen as if it is a foreign body, many symptoms such as gastrointestinal issues can result. In celiac disease (which is an autoimmune condition, not a true food allergy), gastrointestinal symptoms are common.

Hives

For many people, one sign of an allergic reaction is to develop hives. Rashes, hives, and eczema have all been found to be common signs of a food allergy. It is important not to take this lightly, as these skin conditions are symptoms of the allergy.

Ingredients

For someone with a food allergy, it is always important to know the ingredients prior to consuming a new food. The food may appear to be a safe choice, but without knowing how something was made, that food can be misleading. Once the ingredients are identified, the person will be aware if in fact there is a food allergen to be avoided. Also look for a label or ask the person who has done the cooking to identify all ingredients and be sure that they understand the needs of your food allergy.

Just Say No

When faced with foods that have no label, have questionable ingredients or may have been subject to cross contamination, it is important to “just say no.” It is certainly not worth the risk of a possible allergic reaction when it comes to consuming something that contains a food allergen. It is always best to be safe when opting for a new food, rather than to take a chance that can be life threatening. 

Kitchen

For those living with food allergies it is critical to practice safe cooking methods within your kitchen. This may require color-coded plates, sterile environments to avoid cross contamination, organized food cabinets, and easy to identify labeled foods.

For those with children with food allergies, many people keep the allergen out of the home in order to ensure a safer kitchen. Oftentimes, families will have separate cabinets to help avoid confusion when grabbing snacks, cooking, or baking. In restaurants and other food establishments, there are specific food allergy protocols and safety procedures in place to help protect those with food allergies. 

Label

Once you are diagnosed with a food allergy you must learn the importance of always reading the label to be sure that the food allergen is not listed as an ingredient. Being educated on the words to look for is important, since many different terms can be deceiving if you are not sure what you are looking for. 

The Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act mandates that labels of foods that contained major food allergens (milk, eggs, fish, crustacean shellfish, peanuts, tree nuts, wheat and soy) must state the allergen with clarity on their product.

Management

The key to living with food allergies is how you manage the allergy. This means it is important to have a plan of action on how to manage at school, home, work, camp or anywhere you go. It is best to think ahead and have your allergy protocol in place prior to going anywhere.

For example, before your child with food allergies heads off to school for the first time, you want to be sure that the teacher is aware of your child’s needs, such as preferential snacks and an emergency plan in case of a reaction. Or perhaps you are having a work event that might require calling ahead to find out what food will be served to be sure there are options that you can safely eat. By planning ahead you will be able to manage your food allergies with ease.

Nuts

One of the most common and serious food allergies today is nut allergy. There are two distinct kinds of allergies to nuts: peanuts and tree nuts. Peanuts grow underground and are part of the legume family, while tree nuts (which include almonds, walnuts, cashews, and pecans, among others) grow above the ground.

Many people have an allergy to peanuts, tree nuts, or both, and some are at risk for anaphylactic reactions if exposed to their allergen. It is very important that those at risk always have immediate access to an epinephrine auto-injector.   

Organizations

There are many resources available for those with food allergies today, and multiple organizations devoted to educating people about food allergies, understanding your food allergens, keeping those with allergies safe and helping to connect people to helpful forums. It is through these many channels that the growing number of people diagnosed with food allergies can help to keep each other informed on the latest strides in leading a healthy life despite their allergy.

Prepared

Being prepared at all times for a reaction can be a life-saving tactic. It is critical that someone with a food allergy is aware of how to handle a reaction within moments of it occurring. Sitting down with your child or family member or close friends to make a plan of action is most important in managing food allergies. 

For younger children, it is important that the adult in charge of them is made aware of their allergies and is told what to do in the case of an emergency. At times, you'll need to bring your own food to events is what is necessary to be certain that you can dine safely. And, of course, medication should always be on hand if in fact there is a reaction.  

Reaction

There are many different reactions that can occur when someone is exposed to a food allergen. Stuffy nose, rashes, hives, abdominal pain, gastrointestinal issues, itchy throat, shortness of breath and difficulty breathing are among some of the reactions that can occur. It is also important to recognize that for many people the second time they eat something that they are allergic too, the reaction can be worse. If there is any concern that you might be allergic to a food, be sure to discuss with your physician.

Statistics

It is estimated that up to 15 million Americans have food allergies. This affects about 1 in every 13 children under 18 years of age. Food allergies appear to be on the rise, with an increase in children’s allergies of about 50 percent between 1997 and 2011. Studies show that every three minutes an allergic reaction sends someone to the emergency room for treatment. 

Treatment

The best treatment for managing a food allergy is to totally remove that food from one’s diet. In the event this is not possible, the allergy can be treated by medicines like an antihistamine for mild reactions and epinephrine for serious reactions. 

Versus Sensitivity

Food allergies and sensitivities are two different things make by the body’s response. In the case of an allergy, your immune system gets involved. In the case of a sensitivity or intolerance, the reaction is largely triggered in the digestive system.

Wheat

While those with a wheat allergy and those with celiac both can’t eat wheat, there is a difference between the two conditions.  A wheat allergy is an overreaction of the immune system to a specific food protein, namely that in wheat. Celiac disease is a condition in which there is an abnormal reaction to gluten in the small intestine. As gluten is found in wheat, among other grains, those with celiac cannot tolerate wheat in their diet. 

Xantham Gum

Some people find that when they are following a gluten-free diet, they still experience food allergy symptoms despite being careful of their food choices. It seems that often gluten-free products rely on Xantham gum as an ingredient to be used as a thickening agent. Many people find that they are allergic to this ingredient, or the bacterium it is grown on.  

Yeast

Some people wind up being diagnosed with a yeast allergy, experiencing symptoms of abdominal swelling, joint pain, breathing difficulties, and dizziness. As yeast is a form of fungi, many people with a yeast allergy also have allergies to environmental molds and fungus. 

Zits

Any food allergy is capable of causing acne, as the allergy usually starts from inside the body and goes outward.  A food allergy causes a toxic reaction that inflames the skin as the body tries to rid itself of the toxin. The worse the acne, the more likely that food allergies are involved.  

A Word from Verywell

You need to understand your food allergy in order to stay safe. Everyone with a food allergy, from little children to adults, must be educated on what an allergy means, know how to identify reactions, and learn how to treat them. As kids get older, it is important to re-educate them at various time periods as they grow more independent and have to manage it on their own. 

Finally, don’t ever feel foolish asking as many questions as you may have before eating anything. Don’t ever assume that something looks safe if you have never had it before. If you are unsure that the answer you have received is not accurate, do not be afraid to further investigate if the food is safe for you to eat. 

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