What is a food allergy?
Every day the immune system works hard to keep our body healthy and infection free. A food allergy occurs when the immune system overreacts to an otherwise harmless food protein. This condition more often occurs in young children, however, food allergy may develop at any age.
How many people are affected?
The number of people diagnosed with a food allergy has increased by about 50% in the last 15 years. In the United States, research estimates that up to 15 million Americans are affected including 1 in 13 children or roughly two kids in every classroom.
Can particular foods trigger this condition?
There are many foods that can trigger a food allergy. However, there are eight foods that cause approximately 90% of allergic reactions to foods. These are referred to as the “Big 8” and include Milk, Egg, Soy, Wheat, Peanuts, Tree Nuts, Shellfish, and Fish.
What are the symptoms?
Symptoms occur quickly after ingesting a food allergen, usually within minutes to a couple hours. The reaction can range from mild to severe symptoms.
- Mild symptoms include hives, redness of the mouth or eyes, itching, nasal congestion or sneezing, nausea or vomiting, diarrhea, stomach pain, and a slight dry cough.
- Severe symptoms include swelling of the mouth or tongue causing difficulty swallowing, shortness of breath, decreased blood pressure, loss of consciousness, and a sense of “impending doom.”
Severe symptoms or a combination of mild symptoms is termed anaphylaxis and requires life-saving medical treatment.
Is it curable?
At this time, there is not a cure for food allergies. Although, there is a great deal of research that is geared towards a cure. Recent research has shown that we may be able to prevent the development of food allergies by the early and frequent introduction of allergenic foods, such as peanut around 6 months of age.
After a patient is diagnosed, the best option at this time is to avoid that food and return each year to see if the allergy has changed, as children may “outgrow” a food allergy. With that said, food allergy reactions can accidentally occur and should be treated with an epi-pen, which is a life-saving medication.
How is it diagnosed?
Food allergy can be life-threatening and should not be self-diagnosed. It is very important to see a doctor who is trained in allergy and immunology to diagnose and care for patients with this condition. The first step will include gathering a thorough medical history from the patient or family. This is often followed by allergy testing, such as skin prick testing, blood test, or oral food challenge. A personalized treatment plan can then be created by understanding both the medical history and the test results.
About Dr. Christina Ortiz
Christina F. Ortiz, MD, MPH, is an allergy and asthma specialist. Dr. Ortiz treats a variety of allergic conditions, including seasonal and indoor allergies, asthma, eczema, medication and food allergies, and sinusitis. She provides up-to-date allergy testing to identify triggers of allergic symptoms or asthma. She also offers a variety of treatment options, including allergen immunotherapy (allergy shots), which is an individualized treatment option that offers long-term relief and asthma prevention.
Dr. Ortiz practices at TPMG – Coastal Allergy in Chespeake, VA.