Separating fact from fiction on food allergies

Separating fact from fiction on food allergies

If it seems like food allergies are becoming more common, it’s because they appear to be.  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, released a study in 2013 that showed food allergies among children increased approximately 50% between 1997 and 2011. 

One reason for an increase may have to do with past advice of pediatricians to parents to avoid giving peanut products to children until over the age of two.  Now they recommend introducing peanut containing food before the age of one.  

Other reasons may be an increase in educating parents on the symptoms of food allergies.  Either way, food allergies and food sensitivities are not to be taken lightly as they can cause serious reactions.  Here are some misconceptions about food allergies/sensitivities:

1.     Fallacy:  The number of people with food allergies is very common.

Fact: Food allergies are not that common even though up to 34 percent of people think they have a food allergy.  About 8 percent of children have a food allergy whereas only 2 percent or one in 50 adults have a food allergy.  Being allergic to a nonfood item is more common than being allergic to a food item.  If you suspect you have a food allergy, instead of making a self-diagnosis, go to a doctor who is a board certified allergist.  They will take a complete history along with other testing to determine if you have a food allergy or not.

2.     Fallacy:  If a food causes problems for you, you are probably allergic to it.

Fact:  Maybe.  A true allergy to a food is when you have an abnormal response to a food, triggered by the body’s immune system.  The body produces a specific type of antibody, called immunoglobulin E (IgE) .  The IgE antibody binds to specific molecules in a food which triggers the immune response. The onset of an IgE mediated food allergy occurs within minutes or up to 2 hours after eating the food.  Symptoms usually involve the skin (itching, swelling, or tingling in the throat), gastrointestinal tract or the respiratory tract (wheezing, coughing or shortness of breath) and can range from being mild to developing a life-threatening reaction called anaphylaxis. 

3.    Fallacy:  If you have a food allergy as a child, you’ll have it for a lifetime.

Fact:  Most children will outgrow their food allergy but do not assume they will without the supervision of your doctor to determine that.  If you think your child is no longer allergic to a food, the best place to try a food test is at the doctor’s office where if they had a bad reaction, they would have immediate medical attention available if needed.  If the food allergy persists into the teen years, it is less likely to be outgrown.  Peanut and tree nut allergies are seldom outgrown.

4.    Fallacy:  Fruits and vegetables are a common type of food people are allergic to.

Fact: Not true.  In the United States, 90% of allergic reactions to food result from one of these 8 foods:  Milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, shellfish, fish, soy, and wheat.  It is the protein within these foods that is the culprit.  If a person appears to have a reaction to a fruit or vegetable such as itching in the mouth, it is more likely to be due to oral allergy syndrome

5.    Fallacy:  Food allergies and food sensitivities are the same thing.

Fact: Food allergies and food sensitivities are not the same thing. Likewise, neither is a food intolerance or food aversion.  Here are the differences:

Food Sensitivity – This does not involve the immune system. A person may have a unpleasant reaction to a food such as feeling nausea, cramps or acid reflux, but they don’t always have the same reaction each time they eat the food like they would if they were allergic to it. 

Food Intolerance – This occurs when you lack an enzyme to digest the food.  A good example is lactose intolerance.  If a person consumes a food containing lactose, such as milk, they will experience symptoms of bloating, gas, or abdominal cramps but again, the immune system is not involved and the symptoms are not life-threatening.

Food Aversion – This is having a strong dislike of a food usually caused by a bad experience with the food of becoming ill after eating it or a psychological repulsion of a food caused by emotional distress.  The person is not allergic to the food as the immune system is not involved in causing the aversion.

6.     Fallacy: Food allergies or intolerances can be cured.

Fact:  False.  Currently there is no cure for food allergies or food intolerances.  With a food allergy, complete avoidance of the food is necessary so as to prevent a bad or life-threatening reaction.  If may be necessary for people with food allergies to carry an epi-pen with them at all times if they experience anaphylactic shock.  If this occurs, they can inject themselves with the medication which is epinephrine to counteract the reaction.  People with food intolerances may be able to consume a small amount of the food that they are intolerant to before they experience any unpleasant side effects, which are not life-threatening.