9 Questions About Food Allergies
By Steve Edwards
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an allergic reaction to a food is a potentially dangerous situation that will
most likely happen to many of us. Let's look at the very basics of the issue so
that you can evaluate how to protect yourself and your family.
- What is a food
allergy? A food allergy is an immunologic reaction to a
food protein that can cause a range of symptoms from itching to anaphylaxis.
While it can't be said they are common, they do affect many people. An
estimated 2 percent of adults and 8 percent of children are affected by food
allergies. These numbers have been rising in recent years. There is no proven
cure for food allergies, though children tend to outgrow them. Adults do not.
The most common way they're treated is avoidance.
- What are
the symptoms? Most people have minor symptoms, such as
itching around the mouth, nose, eyes, and throat. However, there is a large
variance of symptoms that can cause confusion when diagnosing an allergy.
Hives, swelling, wheezing, congestion, stomach pain, vomiting, diarrhea,
eczema, and even anaphylaxis (which can cause death) are all attributed to
allergic reactions to foods. Extreme reactions are very rare but possible
enough that the situation should be treated seriously, especially with
- What isn't a food
allergy? We often confuse food allergies with food
intolerance. An estimated 25 percent of us claim to have some sort of food
allergy that isn't actually an allergic reaction, but intolerance to a type of
food that causes similar symptoms. These reactions are usually not dangerous
but can be real and unpleasant.
- What are
the most common food allergies? Ninety percent of the
diagnosed food allergies in the U.S. come from the "big 8": dairy, soy,
shellfish, eggs, wheat, peanuts, seafood, and tree nuts. Allergies seem to
increase with exposure to certain foods, so this statistic varies in other
cultures (for example, rice allergies are more common in Asia).
- Are food allergies
more dangerous to your kids? Far more kids suffer from
food allergies than adults. The good news is that most kids will grow out of
them. However, these need to be treated seriously and you should see you doctor
if any allergic reactions appear.
In infants, colic is a danger from
reactions to milk or soy formula. If your child shows any signs of abnormality,
such as crying at night or the inability to sleep well, have them checked
- Do I
need to see a doctor? If you suspect that you have a food
allergy, it's recommended that you see your doctor. Medical tests can identify
allergies. They may not identify food intolerance, but since that has fewer
severe symptoms, you can rule out most of the danger.
makes breathing difficult and can be fatal. In these cases, an epinephrine shot
may be prescribed. In severe allergic cases, you will be prescribed a home
- Can I be allergic to
sugar? Sugar allergies are often suspected but are not
possible. If you have a bad reaction to sugar, it's food intolerance. Allergies
only happen with proteins, not carbohydrates and fats. Sugar has no
You may, however, be allergic to sugar substitutes. Many
reactions have been attributed to all sugar substitutes, but especially with
regard to aspartame.
- What about food
additives? Allergic reactions are somewhat common to
sulfites, food coloring, MSG, and other food additives. While far less common
than reactions to natural foods, they are also harder to identify. Reading food
labels can help you avoid these foods, which don't have an important place in
your diet in any case.
about GMOs? So far, the science regarding genetically
modified organisms has been more anecdotal than proven, but many people
consider the recent rise in allergic reactions the fault of our beloved
"Frankenfoods." It does merit some concern. Soy is one of our
most-tampered-with crops and soy allergies have probably risen more than any
other. It's definitely an issue to keep an eye on.
Since the U.S.
currently doesn't require that our labels inform us when we're eating
genetically engineered foods, such as they do in most developed countries, your
best defense is to write and get this changed. Currently, the FDA states it has
"no basis for concluding that bioengineered foods differ from other foods in
any meaningful or uniform way, or that, as a class, foods developed by the new
techniques present any different or greater safety concern than foods developed
by traditional plant breeding." If you, like much of the rest of the world,
have an issue with this statement, you may want to fire off a quick email to
your local elected official.