Food allergies affect 4 percent to 6 percent of children and 4 percent of adults every year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. A food allergy refers to an unusual immune response brought on by consuming certain foods.
To expand further, when you consume certain harmless food items, the body’s immune system mistakes certain proteins in the food as potentially toxic and detrimental to your health. This prompts the body to launch a series of protective measures. Although allergic reactions are often mild, some of them can be very serious.
What Causes Food allergy?
Food allergies are the result of the immune system’s error in identifying certain foods or elements in the food as harmful to the body when in reality they are completely harmless. This follows that when you ingest certain foods that the body suspects to be a threat, your immune system releases an antibody called immunoglobulin E (IgE) to counteract the allergen.
Subsequently, whenever you ingest even the smallest amount of that particular food, the IgE detects its presence and triggers the immune system to unleash a number of chemicals such as histamine into your bloodstream. It’s these chemicals that give way to an allergic reaction.
In some cases, however, the allergic reaction is triggered by cells other than immunoglobulin E. The symptoms associated with this type of reaction usually takes a while to set in, making it even more difficult to diagnose this type of reaction.
Although one can be allergic to almost any food, there are certain usual suspects that lie at the base of most food allergies.
In children, the most common food triggers are:
- Tree nuts
Children that suffer from food allergies often have a history of having experienced eczema during infancy. Their chances of having a food allergy go up depending upon the severity and the onset of the eczema condition.
In adults, the foods that are most culpable for triggering allergic reactions are:
- Tree nuts – such as walnuts, brazil nuts, almonds, and hazelnuts
- Fruits – such as apples and peaches
- Shellfish – such as crab, lobster, and prawns
Oral allergy syndrome (pollen-food syndrome) is caused by allergy antibodies erroneously identifying certain proteins found in fruits, nuts, or vegetables as pollen. This syndrome is often marked by itchiness in the mouth and throat, sometimes accompanied with mild swelling soon after eating fresh fruit or vegetable.
However, these symptoms are generally not intense and the allergy-causing food can easily be nullified by cooking it thoroughly.
Risk Factors Related to Food Allergy
Even though anyone can be the target of a food allergy, there are certain risk factors that may put you at a higher risk:
- Family history. If asthma, eczema, hives, or allergies such as hay fever run in your family, you are predisposed to develop a food allergy.
- Other allergies. Being allergic to one food increases your susceptibility of developing other food allergies. Similarly, if you grapple with other forms of allergic reactions, such as hay fever or eczema, your risk of having a food allergy is greater.
- Children, especially toddlers and infants, are the most vulnerable age group to fall victim to food allergies because their digestive system is still nascent. With age, the digestive system matures and the body is less likely to absorb food or food components that trigger allergies, making you less prone to allergies. Although certain food allergies in children typically to milk, soy, wheat, and eggs often run their course and cease to exist over time, severe allergies and allergies to nuts and shellfish, however, are more likely to stick around for a lifetime.
- Asthma and food allergy often go hand in hand. When both these conditions occur simultaneously, the symptoms for both the food allergy and asthma are more likely to be severe.
Signs Symptoms of Food Allergy
Even brief exposure to allergy-causing food can bring the onset of an allergic reaction, characterized by signs and symptoms ranging from digestive problems, hives, and swollen airways to potentially fatal conditions such as anaphylaxis.
These symptoms can be mild or severe and affect different areas of the body, including the skin, gastrointestinal tract, cardiovascular system, and respiratory tract, either individually or at the same time.
The symptoms usually begin to set in within a few minutes to 2 hours of eating the food allergen and eventually transform into a full-blown reaction. Some of the most characteristic symptoms of an allergic reaction are:
- Itchy or tingly sensation inside the mouth, throat, or ears
- Swollen itchy red rash (urticaria, or hives)
- Facial inflammation, around the eyes, lips, tongue, and roof of the mouth (angioedema)
- Repetitive coughing
- A runny nose and dizziness
- Troubled breathing due to tightening of the throat
- Watery, bloodshot eyes
In some cases, the allergic reaction takes a life-threatening turn and is referred to as anaphylaxis. This type of reaction is usually triggered soon after exposure to a specific allergen, most commonly food items such as peanuts, certain medications, and stinging insects, but this can take a few hours to manifest itself completely.
Thus, the signs and symptoms associated with this condition tend to come on quickly and worsen rapidly. These include:
- Rapid dip in blood pressure
- Apprehensions about something bad that’s about to happen
- Constant itch and tickle in the throat
- Respiratory problems, which tend to deteriorate gradually
- Itchy skin and rash that may spread rapidly across the body
- Incessant sneezing
- Dripping nose and watery eyes
- Tachycardia (accelerated heartbeat)
- Rapid swelling of the throat, lips, face, and mouth
- Light-headedness or loss of consciousness
Preventing Food Allergy
- Always be mindful of what you are putting in your mouth. Identify your trigger foods and steer clear of them. This includes reading food labels to check out the list of contents of a product and being careful when eating out to avoid problem ingredients that might be well-hidden in certain dishes served at restaurants and other social settings.
- In case you are in the midst of an ongoing severe reaction such that you’re unable to communicate it to others, wear a medical alert bracelet or necklace to indicate that you’re suffering from a food allergy.
- If you run the risk of falling prey to a severe allergic reaction, it may be prudent to consult your healthcare provider about carrying an epinephrine auto-injector (Adrenaclick, EpiPen) with you at all times.
- Be sure to check with your server or chef about how your dish was prepared before digging in. Give a heads up to your restaurant personnel about any active food allergies you might be suffering from and insist on ensuring that your food is prepared keeping in mind your allergic considerations.
- Whenever you are traveling to an event that might run a bit long, prepare allergen-free snacks to satisfy your hunger pangs as its best to avoid market-sold products.
The following are preventive measures if you have a child who suffers from food allergies:
- In the event of a birthday party or the likes, have an allergen-free treat prepared as an alternative for your child if he or she harbors an allergy to the regular cake or dessert.
- Notify key people that your child has a food allergy. Talk with child care providers, school personnel, parents of your child’s friends, and other adults who regularly interact with your child. Emphasize that an allergic reaction can be life-threatening and requires immediate action. Make sure that your child also knows to ask for help right away if he or she reacts to food.
- Keep the adults who regularly spend time with your child abreast of any signs and symptoms of an allergic reaction that they may need to look out for. This includes school personnel, child care providers, and parents of your child’s friends, among others.
- At the same time, train and motivate your child to ask for help as soon as he feels a reaction setting in.
- Prepare an action plan delineating the steps to approach and look after your child in case he or she has an allergic reaction in your absence. Share copies of the same with your child’s school nurse and others who care for and supervise your child.
- Instruct your child to always have his or her medical alert bracelet or necklace on. This will inform others of your child’s allergy symptoms and explain how they can provide first aid in an emergency.
Treatment Options for Food Allergy
Once a food allergy is diagnosed and the problem-causing food is identified, your healthcare provider will usually direct you to a dietitian. The dietitian will chalk out a diet plan that eliminates the allergen from your diet in a way that does not undermine your health. This is referred to as an elimination diet.
For instance, if you are allergic to peanuts, you can go without ever consuming peanuts again and there will be no harmful repercussions on your health. However, if the allergic reaction is triggered by some indispensable and essential dietary component such as milk, the dietitian will help figure out and include alternative sources of calcium and protein to replace milk in your diet.
Elimination does not only involve chucking out allergens from your diet, but it also includes ways to never inhale, touch, or eat foods that contain traces of such allergens. This also entails avoiding cutlery, crockery, cooking surfaces, and chopping boards that may have traces of the allergen.
When to See a Doctor
Refer to a doctor or allergist whenever you experience food allergy symptoms shortly after eating. If possible, see your doctor when the allergic reaction is ongoing. This will enable the doctor to make a more prompt and accurate diagnosis.
Emergency treatment is warranted if you experience the following symptoms associated with anaphylaxis:
- Constriction of airways leading to trouble breathing
- Shock with a sharp decrease in blood pressure
- Rapid pulse rate
- Dizziness or light-headedness
Food allergies are a cause for concern, and you must take the necessary steps to prevent reactions and treat them when they occur. To help treat mild allergy symptoms and even cure your sensitivities, there are many natural options.
Tips and Remedies to Get Relief from Food Allergies at Home
Here are a few home remedies that are useful in combating food allergies.
1. Avoid Food Allergens
A key part of relieving the symptoms of food allergies is identifying the foods responsible for the distress and eliminating them from your diet.
- To identify food allergens, write down everything you ate or drank in the 2 to 3 days prior to the appearance of allergic symptoms. Then, look for foods that were new to your body. Avoid such foods completely until your condition improves.
- You can reintroduce the food allergen slowly into your diet, but only after you have recovered completely. If the allergen causes symptoms again, it is best to avoid that food completely.
- Before buying any kind of food, read the labels carefully to look for troublesome ingredients to avoid. Also, when ordering food in restaurants, ask for the ingredient list.
2. Eat More Probiotic Foods
To ease symptoms such as stomach pain and diarrhea, eat more probiotic foods. They contain a high number of “good” bacteria (lactobacilli) that help restore the natural balance of your gut bacteria and thereby alleviate digestive problems. Such foods also boost your immune system.
- When it comes to probiotic foods, the best option is yogurt with “live” or “active” cultures. Try to eat 2 to 3 cups of plain, unsweetened yogurt daily.
- Other good probiotic foods are kefir, sauerkraut, miso, kimchi, and tempeh. Include two or three probiotic foods in your diet for 1 to 2 weeks.
- The effect of probiotics on people with weak immune systems is still not well established and might prove harmful. It is suggested that probiotics can make people with subpar immune responses susceptible to infections.
- They might be detrimental to the health of elderly people.
- Some probiotics may interfere with, or adversely interact with, certain medications.
- The side effects associated with probiotic consumption may vary, with gas and bloating being the most common. While most of these discomforts are mild and temporary, probiotic use can sometimes lead to more serious problems, such as allergic reactions either to the probiotics themselves or to other ingredients in the products.
Your doctor will take into account all these factors and help you decide if probiotics are the right choice for you.
3. Add Ginger to Your Diet
Ginger is effective in treating various gastrointestinal discomforts associated with food allergies. Its anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and antibacterial properties can curb digestive spasms, nausea, vomiting, indigestion, and diarrhea.
A 2010 study published in Molecules reported that select phenolic constituents of ginger rhizomes exhibit high potency in inhibiting the release of inflammatory mediators from mast cells, thus exhibiting its anti-allergic potential.
A 2014 study published in Pharmaceutical Biology reported that ginger reduces allergic airway inflammation, possibly by the suppression of Th2-mediated immune response.
- Drink 2 to 3 cups of ginger tea. To make the tea, simmer a few slices of ginger in 2 cups of boiling water for 10 minutes. Strain, add honey to taste, and drink this warm tea.
- Alternatively, mix together 1 teaspoon each of freshly extracted ginger juice and honey. Take this mixture before eating your meals to improve your digestion.
4. Sip on a Green Tea
Green tea is one of the best home remedies for stomach symptoms associated with food allergies given its antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and antihistamine properties. It also helps your digestive system function properly and boosts your immune system.
A 2012 study published in the Journal of Functional Foods found that the catechins of green tea have pronutritive and antinutritive properties that aid in controlling the bioavailability of potential allergens inside the gut, thus making the food product less allergenic.
- Put 1 to 2 teaspoons of good-quality green tea in 1 cup and pour hot water over it.
- Cover and allow it to steep for a few minutes.
- Strain, and then add some honey and lemon to taste.
- Drink 3 to 4 cups of green tea throughout the day.
5. Prefer Eating Garlic
Garlic contains quercetin, a natural antihistamine that can be very effective in treating food allergies. In addition, its anti-inflammatory, antibiotic, and antioxidant properties help reduce allergy symptoms and promote quick recovery.
A study published in Phytomedicine found that aged garlic extract (AGE) application in a mouse model resulted in direct or indirect modifications in the functioning of mast cells, basophils, and activated T lymphocytes, which play a leading role in allergic cascade reactions, including inflammation.
- Chew 2 to 3 raw garlic cloves daily to combat the various symptoms.
- You can also take garlic supplements after consulting a doctor.
6. Drink Stinging Nettle Tea
Stinging nettle contains antihistamine a cupnd anti-inflammatory properties that can help treat types of allergies, including food allergies. It can provide relief from symptoms such as a runny nose, sneezing, skin rashes, nausea, and stomach pain.
- Put 1 tablespoon of dried stinging nettle leaf in 1 cup of hot water. Cover and let it steep for 5 minutes. Strain, add a little honey and drink this herbal tea two or three times daily until your symptoms go away.
- Alternatively, you can take nettle capsules but only after consulting a doctor.
7. Consume Foods Rich in Vitamin C
Foods rich with vitamin C provide antioxidant and immune-boosting benefits. This vitamin also prevents the formation of histamine in response to a food allergen and aids in the removal of toxins from the body.
- Include more fruits and vegetables rich in vitamin C in your diet. Some good sources of vitamin C are lemons, oranges, broccoli, grapefruit, kiwi, bell peppers, strawberries, sprouts, and tomatoes. However, make sure that you are not allergic to any of them.
- You can also take vitamin C supplements daily but only after running it by your doctor.
- For localized, mild skin reactions, take cool showers or apply cool compresses. Wear light clothing that does not irritate the skin.
- Keep your activity level low for a few days. Get plenty of rest and adequate sleep for quick recovery.
- Expose yourself to early morning sunlight to help your body produce vitamin D, which helps modulate immune responses.
- Vitamin E can boost your body’s immune system, so eat foods rich in vitamin E, such as tofu, spinach, almonds, sunflower seeds, avocados, shrimp, rainbow trout, olive oil, and broccoli.
- You can take an Epsom salt bath to treat skin rashes.
- At regular intervals, drink water to keep the body hydrated.
- Acupuncture and acupressure can help improve your immune system responses.
- Various asanas in yoga can work to allay allergic reactions. However, it is essential to get a trained yoga instructor to teach you the appropriate asanas.
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