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Food allergy: Treatment, symptoms, advice and help

About food allergy

Food allergy is a common allergic condition characterised by abnormal immune response (also called allergic reaction) triggered by certain food allergens. The common food allergens are peanuts, shellfish, eggs, soybeans and milk.

Food allergy: Incidence, age and sex

Food allergy is a commonly encountered phenomenon in the general population. It may be seen in children as well as the adult population. However, the kids mostly infants, are more frequently afflicted with this allergic condition as compared to adults. It usually has almost the same prevalence in both sexes.

Signs and symptoms of food allergy: Diagnosis

An allergic reaction to any food may vary from a mild skin reaction to a severe life-threatening shock. The clinical features of food allergy may vary between children and adults. The children usually present with rashes and redness of the skin accompanied with itching or even blisters in occasional cases. Sometimes, respiratory features including cough, shortness of breath have also been documented both in children and adults with an allergic reaction to food allergen. However, the clinical presentation in adults is more direct and manifested as nausea, vomiting, abdominal bloating or cramps, accompanied with diarrhoea. There is no set demarcation in clinical presentation between children and adults and overlapping of symptoms may also take place. It is not an infectious disorder and cannot be transmitted from person to person.

Certain diagnostic tests like skin prick test or blood test may help in diagnosing the allergic condition. Moreover non-invasive tests like ‘elimination test’ may also be done in some individuals to establish the diagnosis. ‘Elimination test’ requires eliminating the suspecting food allergen from the diet for a few days and then resuming it again. This may help in detection of the offending food allergen.

Causes and prevention of food allergy

The exact cause of this allergic phenomenon is not clear. Genetic factors may play a strong role in causation. Generally, it may be associated with other allergic conditions like allergic rhinitis, atopic eczema or asthma. Milk and eggs are the common food allergens in children. Alternatively, adults are usually more sensitive to products like lobsters, shrimp, crabs, nuts and soybeans.

Food allergy: Complications

Occasionally, food allergy may cause a severe reaction called as anaphylactic reaction which is characterised by narrowing of air passages resulting in shortness of breath. Sometimes, the individual may also have hoarseness of voice and swelling of the voice box. Very rarely, this may result in anaphylactic shock wherein the airways are seriously compromised and the individual loses consciousness. This can even cause death if not provided immediate medical attention.

Food allergy: Treatment

The first and foremost step is to identify and subsequently eliminate the offending food allergen. Moreover anti-allergic medications like anti-histamines may help in relieving the allergic symptoms. If the individual shows signs of anaphylactic shock, he/she should be given immediate medical attention. Injectible epinephrine is the medication of choice in severe cases of anaphylaxis. Individuals with prior history of anaphylaxis are recommended to carry an epinephrine injection kit with them at all times.