Food Allergy: Fact Vs. Fiction
Did you know that 30 percent of people are convinced that they have food allergies? That's why there's an increased number of warnings on restaurant menus, bright labels dotting food packaging, and precautions taken in public places like schools. Our society practically has a food allergy list!
However, a new U.S. government report published in the Journal of the American Medical Association and supported by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases finds the gap between perception and reality is as wide as it is deep.
This research project suggests that the actual number of those suffering from food allergies is somewhere between 2 percent and 9 percent of the population -- and slightly more children than adults.
This finding should in no way undercut the importance of food-allergy awareness. Bona fide food allergies can be dangerous -- if not fatal -- especially if ignored and untreated.
If you have a proven food allergy, think you might have a food allergy or know someone who does, here are some facts and findings to be aware of:
- Alergy vs. intolerance: If you're "lactose intolerant," then by definition you don't have a milk allergy per se but something called a "food intolerance." Many of the aforementioned 30 percent who believe they suffer from a food allergy suffer instead from this condition, which still can cause significant symptoms that are just as nasty as an actual allergy but are usually not as severe.
- Usual suspects: The following foods are responsible for more than 50 percent of all food allergies: wheat, shellfish and fish, cow's milk, hen's eggs, peanuts and tree nuts.
- What to look for: Allergic reactions can range from mild to severe, depending on the amount of the food consumed and a person's degree of hypersensitivity. Serious reactions include coughing or wheezing, tightness in the throat or choking, nausea and vomiting, stomach pain and diarrhea. Any or all of these reactions can occur in a matter of minutes -- and demand prompt intervention.
- Popular triggers: Food allergies often travel up from the roots of your family tree. If Mom can't consume wheat, then a daughter with occasional suspicious symptoms might consider an early checkup for a similar allergy. Another, more stealthy allergy trigger is called cross-reactivity, which means that a food with a similar chemical composition to something else to which you're allergic also can cause an outbreak: for example, aged cheese and mold allergies.
- Age alert: Children seem to be more prone to food allergies, and as we get older some of these allergies can disappear. At the same time, adults can and do develop new food allergies and intolerances -- sometimes to foods they have eaten for years without problems. Medical science is trying to sort all this out.
There are many strategies to diagnose and manage food allergies and intolerances -- and to help distinguish between the two -- ranging from elimination diets and food challenges to immune system labs and medication trials. The science of allergy continues to evolve. In the meantime, education, awareness and prevention remain our best defenses.
About the Author
Dr. Leon Spiers is a physician with PartnerMD, a Richmond-based medical practice specializing in concierge-style primary care and executive physicals. To learn more, call (804) 237-8282, e-mail RichmondInfo@partnermd.com or visit www.partnermd.com.
Originally published by Dr. Leon Spiers; WELLNESS.
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