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Facts behind food allergies – Health – Macon.com

 Facts behind food allergies   Health   Macon.com

A food allergy is a reaction of the body’s immune system to something in a food or an ingredient in a food — usually a protein. It can be a serious condition and should be diagnosed by a board-certified allergist. A true food allergy also is called “food hypersensitivity” and its symptoms can take many forms.

The eight most common food allergens are milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, soy, wheat, fish and shellfish. These allergens cause more than 90 percent of all food allergic reactions. however, many other foods have been identified as allergens for some people.

Symptoms of food allergy differ greatly among individuals. They can also differ in the same person during different exposures.

Allergic reactions to food can vary in severity, time of onset, and may be affected by when the food was eaten.

Common symptoms of food allergies include skin irritations such as rashes, hives and eczema, and gastrointestinal symptoms such as nausea, diarrhea and vomiting. Sneezing, a runny nose and shortness of breath also can result from food allergies.

Some individuals may experience more severe reactions called anaphylaxis.

Anaphylaxis is a rare but potentially fatal condition in which different parts of the body experience allergic reactions. These may include itching, hives, swelling of the throat, difficulty breathing, lower blood pressure and unconsciousness.

Symptoms usually appear rapidly, sometimes within minutes of exposure to the allergen, and can be life threatening. Immediate medical attention is necessary when anaphylaxis occurs. Standard emergency treatment often includes an injection of epinephrine (adrenaline) to open up the airway and blood vessels.

According to the National Institutes of Health, about 5 million Americans have a true food allergy. The number of people with food allergies includes 5 percent to 8 percent of children and 1 percent to 2 percent of adults.

Other reactions to food are called food intolerance and food idiosyncrasy. Food intolerance and food idiosyncrasy reactions are generally localized, temporary and rarely life threatening, whereas food allergy can cause life-threatening reactions.

Food intolerance is an adverse reaction to a food substance or additive that involves digestion or metabolism (breakdown of food by the body) but does not involve the immune system.

Lactose intolerance is an example of food intolerance. It occurs when a person lacks an enzyme needed to digest milk sugar. if a person who is lactose intolerant eats milk products, they may experience symptoms such as gas, bloating and abdominal pain.

Food idiosyncrasy is an abnormal response to a food or food substance. The reaction can resemble or differ from symptoms of true food allergy. Idiosyncratic reactions to food do not involve the immune system. Sulfite sensitivity or sulfite-induced asthma is an example of a food idiosyncrasy that affects small numbers of people in the population. however, sulfite-induced asthma can be potentially life threatening.

Should you suffer from an adverse reaction to a certain food, you should see a board-certified allergist to get a diagnosis. An allergist and dietician can best help the food-allergic patient manage diet issues with little sacrifice to nutrition or the pleasure of eating.

Because food allergy can be life threatening, the allergy producing food must be completely avoided. if you or someone else is experiencing a severe food allergic reaction, call 911 immediately.

Most life-threatening allergic reactions to foods occur when eating away from home. It is important to explain your situation and needs clearly to your host or food server. if necessary, ask to speak with the chef or manager.

Jan Baggarly is Bibb County Extension Coordinator with the University of Georgia Cooperative Extension working in the field of Family and Consumer Sciences. She can be reached at 751-6338.

Facts behind food allergies – Health – Macon.com

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