May 15-21 is Food Allergy Awareness Week. With one in every ten Australian children and two in every hundred adults suffering from at least one food allergy, awareness of food allergies grows ever more important. It’s estimated that every three minutes someone goes to the hospital suffering from an allergic reaction, but there are still people who believe that allergies are little more than an annoyance.
It’s important to note that, while many people may have reactions to foods, not all of these reactions are allergies. Many people have food sensitivities that can cause reactions, some of which may resemble an allergic reaction. The difference is in the nature of the reaction. An allergy is an immune response to a protein in the food, while a sensitivity or intolerance does not involve the immune system. The most common food allergies are peanuts, tree nuts such as cashews and almonds, cow’s milk, eggs, soy, wheat, fish, and shellfish, though these are just a few of the over 170 foods that have been known to trigger allergic reactions.
Symptoms of an allergic reaction can range from itching, hives, abdominal pain, or dizziness, to swelling, especially in the area of the face, trouble breathing, and anaphylaxis. Anaphylaxis is a life-threatening generalized reaction involving the respiratory system, the cardiovascular system, or both. These symptoms can appear almost immediately on contact with the allergen, or up to two hours after exposure.Food sensitivities, on the other hand, can occur hours after exposure and can cause rash, eczema, or digestive disturbances and are not life-threatening.
The severity of a reaction can be unpredictable. Children can often outgrow their allergies, while adults can develop allergies to foods they’ve never had trouble with before. It’s also possible for one who has a history of mild reactions to suddenly experience anaphylaxis, though this is somewhat less likely than for someone who has previously had a severe reaction to experience anaphylaxis.
There is no cure for allergies and the only way to deal with allergies is to manage them by avoiding the allergen entirely. For those who are less sensitive, this can be done by diligently reading product labels. For those who are more sensitive, however, a reaction can be triggered by trace amounts of the allergen from cross-contamination, or by smelling or touching the allergen, or kissing someone who has recently eaten the triggering food. Because it’s so easy to trigger a reaction in sensitive individuals, many of the most common allergens have been banned in many schools and childcare facilities, and many places that cater to children have restricted foods that children may bring in from outside.
Unfortunately, there are still some people who do not understand just how serious food allergies can be, accusing people with allergies of being picky and difficult about their food. This is why food allergy awareness is so important. It is also important for Australians to know what to do in the case of a severe reaction or anaphylaxis. Those with a history of anaphylaxis, or who are at high risk of anaphylaxis, may carry a device called an Epipen, a small tube filled with a premeasured dose of epinephrine that can be used as an immediate treatment in the event of a life-threatening reaction. Severe allergic reactions are a medical emergency, and immediate medical attention is required.
If you suspect you may have a food allergy, call the practice now on 02 9938 5456 to arrange an appointment. We can help you determine whether your symptoms are due to a true food allergy or a food intolerance, and help you learn how to manage the condition.