A food allergy occurs when the body’s immune system reacts in defence to a specific food item. Food allergies are uncommon, occurring in less than 10% of the population, more frequent in children than in adults. This condition should not be confused with food intolerance, which occurs when food is not digested properly. Symptoms include hives, itchy skin, runny nose, coughing, wheezing or diarrhea among others. Food allergies can be mild to serious, leading to swelling, anaphylaxis or death. Individuals of any age who exhibit any of the signs should consult an allergist as soon as possible. An allergist will be able to advise proper treatment and how to manage the condition.
Food Allergy: Medline Plus offers a short overview of the condition including common triggers and its difference from the reaction known as food intolerance.
JAMA Patient Page: Food Allergies (pdf): The link features information on the chances of getting food allergies, how a reaction is triggered, symptoms of food intolerance and treatment for food allergies.
Food allergies are a result of the body’s immune system responding to the food particles much in the same way as it does with a germ, bacteria or disease. Antibodies are produced by the body to combat the foreign material. As the antibodies attack the food protein, an allergic reaction occurs. Symptoms may appear, ranging from as mild as itching and rashes to more serious reactions such as trouble breathing or loss of consciousness. If treatment is not given right away, food allergies can also be fatal. There is no established cure for food allergies although people with the condition can still lead normal, productive lives. Use of products such as EpiPens is only good for controlling severe reactions but do not treat the condition itself. The only way to manage food allergies is to avoid the triggers themselves. However, it is also necessary for the individual to know which foods are causing the allergies and the alternative forms. Patients will need to see an allergist who will conduct a series of tests to determine which foods should be avoided. They will also advise the patient on how to effectively manage the condition and what to do in case of an emergency.
The Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Network: Developed for the Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network (FAAN), the website includes comprehensive information on food allergies. There are sections on education, awareness, research, allergens, fundraising activities and a media center.
Food Allergy: The University of Maryland’s Medical Center has devoted part of their website to informing the public about the ailment. Information includes the signs and symptoms, causes, risk factors, diagnosis, treatment and ways to avoid attacks.
National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases: This website under the US Department of Health and Human Services and the National Institutes of Health features information to help readers understand more about food allergies. It includes a definition of food allergies, what it means to have an allergic reaction, types of reactions, different food triggers for babies, children or adults, diagnosis, treatment and prevention. Other sections include existing research on the topic, news and guidelines for clinics.
Food and Drug Allergies: The Asthma and Allergy Foundation of American has devoted part of their website to gathering and releasing information about food and drug allergies. Categorized in groups, some of these include how to choose an allergy doctor, treating allergies, travelling with allergies and health insurance.
Food allergies are rare, occurring in only 2% to 10% of the American population yet a larger percentage confuse their condition with having food allergies. With kids, some parents think that their child is merely being picky with food. A food allergy is different from food intolerance. Although both conditions involve a reaction to food, the effects of food intolerance are less severe. When it comes to food intolerance, the body is unable to digest components of the food, leaving the individual feeling bloated or nauseated. Lactose intolerance is one common example. Self-diagnosis is not recommended in either case. Simply avoiding the triggers can result in missing out vital nutrients contained in the food item. A consultation with an allergist and a dietitian is recommended as they can advise alternative foods to make up for the lost nutrients.
Food Allergies or Just Food Fussiness?: This PDF file published by the Food and Nutrition Service of the United States Department of Agriculture helps enlighten parents and adults to determine whether a child is allergic to a specific food item or is just picky. The file defines what an allergy is, what to do, common food allergens and how to prepare meals for kids with allergies.
What is the difference between food allergy and food intolerance?: The European Food Information Council (EUFIC) sheds light on some frequently asked questions regarding food allergies. This link explains the difference between a food allergy and intolerance.
Food Allergies: More Than a Sneeze: NetWellness is a collaboration between the University of Cincinnati, Ohio State University and Case Western Reserve University. It delves into the symptoms of food allergies and food intolerance.
Knowing how to manage food allergies is essential to living a safe and healthy life. In 2006, the United States passed the Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act. This requires companies to indicate if the food item contains even trace amounts of milk, wheat, soy, egg, fish, shellfish, peanuts and tree nuts. These are printed on the back of the label in plain English for easy identification. However, food manufacturing companies are not required to do the same for other ingredients. Parents will need to practice due diligence in reading the ingredient label and knowing the alternative names for triggers. Encourage the child to do the same by playing games of identifying the technical and scientific names of ingredients. Also encourage them to ask questions and explain why they need to be careful when it comes to food. Explain to the child that it is not a condition to be ashamed of and should not be kept hidden. Inform their teachers as well. Taking every bit of care possible is needed to managing the condition effectively.
FAAN Kids: The FAAN website is targeted towards kids and how they can manage their food allergies.
FAAN Teens: The FAAN website is targeted towards teens and how they can manage their food allergies.
KidsHealth: Food Allergies: This website developed by the Nemours Foundation provides information on what a food allergy is, what the reaction is like, how to know whether a child has one or not, what the doctor will do, treatment options and how to live with allergies.
VIDEO: If I Had A Child With a Food Allergy: This special video produced by Medline Plus and Insider Medicine includes an interview with Mount Sinai’s Dr. Scott Sicherer. In this video, he instructs viewers on what to do if the child has a food allergy or accidentally eats an allergen, what reactions to look out for and treatment options.
Managing Food Allergies: The link deals with the chances of developing food allergies, how to introduce foods safely, treating the condition, outgrowing and reintroducing foods. It also teaches parents how to get their kids involved in managing their allergies.
Kids with Food Allergies: The online community allows families to find support and informs parents on what they can do if their child has food allergies. Also included are recipes and information on how to find schools that are food allergy aware.
If Your Baby has Food Allergies: The link is part of a joint project between the University of Missouri Extension and Kansas State University’s Research and Extension Service. Included in the website is information on how to deal with an infant that has a food allergy.
Tips to Remember: The American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology has developed a website to include information on food allergies. This includes an explanation of what the condition is, symptoms and severe allergic reactions to look out for, diagnosis, treatment, outgrowing the condition and how to find an allergist.
Ask Before You Eat: This campaign initiated by the New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services and Rutgers University aims to inform residents and readers on how to avoid triggers.
Myths arise when there people do not have access to reliable information. With government agencies and the rising number of organizations involved in dispersing information about food allergies, more and more myths are being debunked. One myth involves thinking that food allergies, intolerance and sensitivity are the same condition. With food sensitivity, the body reacts to certain foods but not in a consistent manner. When it comes to food tolerance, the body lacks enzymes to sufficiently digest the food, resulting in cramps or feeling bloated. Both conditions do not involve the immune system are not fatal. With food allergies, even trace amounts can trigger a reaction. If the person is allergic to eggs, then cakes and pastries that contain small portions of egg should also be avoided. Another myth involves treatment or management of allergies. Some individuals self-diagnose and simply avoid the triggers. Individuals will need to know the alternative forms of triggers and what to do in case an allergic reaction occurs. Another involves testing for allergies. In the past, blood tests were believed to be sufficient in indicating a food allergy. However, this does not pinpoint what type of allergy the person has as the same results are also present in people with asthma. Instead, ask the doctor for a food challenge which will rule out other possible triggers.
Food Allergies: Just the Facts: The FamilyDoctor website lists some of the most common myths surrounding allergies and the truth behind them.
Food Insight: Food Allergy Myths and Realities: Developed by the International Food Information Council Foundation, the websites includes information about allergies, myths surrounding the condition, tests for allergies, sensitivity to sulfite and the dangers of cross contamination.
Food Allergies: 5 Myths Debunked: This list from the WebMD website includes information such as the difference between a food allergy, food intolerance and food sensitivity as well as the importance of seeking medical advice when it comes to food allergies and treatment.
The Internet is filled with all kinds of information regarding food allergies. Determining which websites and groups are reliable is a greater challenge. Some of the most trustworthy sources include government agencies and medical organizations which can help in getting updated with the latest news and legislation concerning food allergies. Joining support groups is also recommended for individuals and families with food allergies. Not only will members get vital information on the latest news, they will also learn techniques on how to manage their allergies.
Food Allergies: What You Need to Know: Contained in the US Food and Drug Administration’s website are fact sheets, resources, advisories and additional information related to food allergies.
Food Allergies: Categories and Related Topics: The website features a list of information from government agencies related to food allergies and arranged by categories. These include disease management, frequently asked questions, general information, practice guidelines, quick tips, research, risk factors, self help, support groups and treatments/procedures.
Healthy Youth! Food Allergies: The website under the Center for Disease Control and Prevention includes a general overview of food allergies, symptoms commonly associated with the condition, treatment, data and statistics and science-based strategies.
Special Diets for Food Allergies: Cleveland Clinic has published a detailed list of the foods that account for most allergic reactions, possible byproducts and other ingredients to look out for.
Food Allergy Health Information: The Mayo Clinic has devoted part of their website to informing readers about food allergies. It includes a medical definition, list of causes, risk factors and complications, how to prepare for an appointment, tests and diagnosis, treatment and drug options, lifestyle and home remedies, alternative medicine, coping, support and prevention. Additional information is also provided for specific allergens such as shellfish, milk, soy, wheat, peanut and egg.