Are you allergic to a food? And if you are, is it actually an allergy or is it an intolerance? Are food allergies dangerous? Are your kids allergic to foods? Do you need testing or can you figure it out yourself? What happens if you keep eating a food that you are allergic or intolerant to? The answers are I don’t know, maybe, yes, I don’t know that either, yes and no, and I’m not going to tell you.
Well it turns out that food allergies are pretty common, affecting about five percent of children and about three percent of adults. The most common allergy causing foods in kids are eggs, milk, soy, wheat, and peanuts, and in adults its crustaceans, tree nuts, peanuts, and fish. So if your favorite meal is a crustacean, stuffed with fish and smothered in tree nut sauce, then you are playing with fire, baby. Even if it isn’t, these foods can pose a real problem for people because things likes wheat, soy, and peanut oil are put into all kinds of products that one might eat. I happen to love peanuts. I have eaten a metric ton of peanuts. I am a peanut, which is quite normal. It’s not like I have an actual “PEANUT PROBLEM” or that I think about them all of the time, although I am thinking about them right now, which is also quite normal.
Allergic reactions come in many different flavors. Medically these are known as hypersensitivity reactions. The most common type, Type 1, is caused by IgE antibodies. Antibodies are special bits of protein designed by the immune system to attach specifically and precisely to certain substances, usually some other protein not found in our bodies, but may be found in something else that we eat or inhale. For example, someone who is allergic to peanuts has formed IgE antibodies to a peanut protein. Upon eating them, these antibodies attach to the protein and signal your immune system to attack the poor, innocent peanut. A cascade of immune reactions then triggers hive formation, airway restriction, blood vessel dilation and pretty soon you can’t breathe or stand up. This is nature’s way of saying that the peanut is right and you are wrong.
If you suspect a food allergy, let’s say peanuts, there is a fairly straightforward test that you can do yourself. It is called the diet elimination test. First remove all peanuts from your diet for two weeks. Then on day #15 eat a bunch. What you should experience is a lessening and then subsequent worsening of the allergy symptoms. Don’t attempt the diet elimination test with a food that causes a serious allergic reaction. Of course you wouldn’t because you are intelligent, but given the current legal climate, apparently even the extremely obvious needs to be stated. With that in mind and to be on the safe side I should probably also say: Do not put a peanut up your nose. Do not inhale a peanut. Do not intravenously inject peanut butter. Do not hit yourself repeatedly over the head with a jar of peanut butter. I think that covers it.
Other options for food allergy testing that are a bit more precise are IgE antibody testing (a blood test) and skin testing. The blood test can be done at a general medicine clinic such as ours, whereas the skin testing is done by an allergist. Either one is quite sensitive. The best treatment for food allergies is avoidance of the food. Desensitization can be done, but usually that is reserved for things that you can’t avoid.