All About Food Allergies

Food Allergy Facts:

●  4-6% of children and 4% of adults suffer from food allergies
●  Food allergies can develop at any time
●  90% of all reactions occur with the following foods: milk, soy, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, wheat, fish, and shellfish
●  Some food allergies may not be permanent

What is a Food Allergy?

A food allergy is when a person’s immune system overreacts to foods. The body identifies a particular food as harmful to the body and begins a fighting response through the development of specific antibodies (IgE). The reaction can be mild (hives) or severe (anaphylaxis).

What is Anaphylaxis?

Anaphylaxis is a life threatening reaction that affects the entire body. This includes breathing difficulty and a drop in blood pressure which can be fatal. This reaction can happen within minutes of ingesting a food. A previous mild reaction to a food is not a predictor of future mild reactions. You can develop anaphylaxis to foods which you had previous mild reactions to.

Is Food Allergy and Food Intolerance the Same?

These two reactions are intrinsically different. Food allergies are reactions that occur as a result of IgE antibodies reacting to specific foods. Food intolerance does not involve this specific immune reaction and therefore does not put you at risk of anaphylaxis. An example of food intolerance is lactose intolerance where ingestion of dairy products leads to abdominal pain, bloating, flatulence and diarrhea.

Diagnosing Food Allergies:

Diagnosing a food allergy begins with a careful history that is obtained by an allergist. If a food allergy is suspected, a blood test to check the levels of IgE antibodies and a skin test to particular food proteins may be conducted. Depending on these results, an allergist may perform an oral food challenge to determine if a food allergy has been outgrown. Because of the risk of anaphylaxis, a challenge must always be done in a doctor’s office where rapid treatment for anaphylaxis can be administered.

Can Food Allergies be Prevented?

A recent study showed that ingesting peanuts at an early age decreases the risk of peanut allergy. The results of this study changed the previous pediatric recommendation of waiting to introduce allergenic foods until later in life. THE EXCEPTION: kids with severe eczema and an egg allergy should be first tested by an allergist before introducing peanut containing foods.

Tips for Staying Safe with a Food Allergy:

● Avoidance of the triggering food is the single most important thing you can do
● Reading food labels carefully
● Be careful when eating out; always inform the wait staff and chef of all food allergies
● If your child has a food allergy, have a food allergy action plan for the school and/or caretakers. Inform your child’s teacher and other care takers in the school of their food allergies and review the action plan with them
●  ALWAYS, ALWAYS carry your epinephrine auto-injectable with you and be knowledgeable on how to use it

ChicagoENT offers food allergy testing. Dr. Payal Patel is board-certified in allergy and immunology and in pediatrics. Dr. Patel completed her residency in pediatrics at the Children’s Hospital at Montefiore of the Albert Einstein College of Medicine. She then received sub-specialty fellowship training in adult and pediatric allergy and immunology.

Dr. Patel is currently taking new patients at our Chicago and Skokie location. Please call us at: 773.296.5500 to make an appointment.