Food Allergy Treatment
Food Allergies Are Out of Control
Millions of Americans are affected by food allergies. An allergic reaction to food occurs when the body’s immune system mistakenly attacks a food or ingredient. Food allergies can potentially happen at any age, but are very common in babies and children. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently reported that 4-6% of children in our country are affected by food allergies, a HUGE increase from the late 1990s. Nearly two children in every classroom have some type of food allergy, according to the Food Allergy Research & Education group.
Some of our patients are confident of the foods that cause an allergic reaction; for example, they break out into hives or their face swells immediately after eating shellfish such as shrimp or crab. Other patients are unsure of the exact food causing allergy-like symptoms.
The Most Common Food Allergy Groups
The eight most common food allergies are:
- Tree nuts
The American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology has indicated certain allergies, i.e. milk, eggs and soy, may disappear over time, while others (i.e.., peanuts, fish, shellfish) are more likely to last a lifetime.
Food Allergy Symptoms: Mild to Life-Threatening
Food allergy symptoms may be mild (e.g., itchy mouth) or potentially deadly (i.e., anaphylaxis). FARE has reported that food allergy reactions are responsible for hundreds of thousands of emergency department visits every year.
Food allergy symptoms include itching, sneezing, runny nose, abdominal cramping, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, rash, eczema, hives and swelling of the lips/mouth (also referred to as oral allergy syndrome when it occurs as the only symptom). Another food allergy event is feeling like food is stuck in the esophagus during swallowing, which could be indicative of a condition called eosinophilic esophagitis.
Food Allergy Diagnosis
It is important that those suffering from allergy symptoms avoid self-diagnosis. Many patients who self-diagnose end up restricting their diets unnecessarily, which can lead to nutritional deficiencies or cause them to overlook other possible food disorders they may be suffering from. Food allergies should be diagnosed by an experienced allergist like Dr. Dr. Joseph Pflanzer who has years of clinical experience and uses state-of-the-art diagnostic tools.
When diagnosing a food allergy, Dr. Joseph Pflanzer first takes a complete and detailed medical history. She asks the patient questions such as:
- Do you have a family history of allergies?
- Have you ever recieved treatment for food allergies?
- How often do you experience food allergies?
- What symptoms occur after eating certain foods?
- How much food do you typically consume?
After discussing food allergy symptoms and possible triggers in greater detail, Dr. Baxter will order proven diagnostic testing to confirm the food allergy.
Allergy Prick Testing: A standard method for allergy skin testing, prick skin tests are quick, convenient and easy to use. A small amount of the suspected allergen is placed on top of the skin surface, and skin under the fluid is pricked in the center; if a raised bump develops, this signals an allergic reaction. All the desired tests can be administered in just a minute or two, with results ready in 10-15 minutes. You will receive a photograph of your skin reactions when the results are complete.
ImmunoCAP Blood Testing: The ImmunoCAP blood test identifies specific allergen sensitivities by measuring the amount of allergy-type antibodies (immunoglobulin E or IgE) in the bloodstream. Highly accurate and reliable, the ImmunoCAP can be used alone or in combination with another test, and can sometimes pick up a reaction that fails to cause a skin-test positive. It can also be used for patients who are unable to successfully wean off their antihistamines in order to have a skin test.
Patch Testing: Unlike the Multi-Test and ImmunoCAP blood tests, which evaluate immediate allergic reactions, the patch test evaluates delayed allergic reactions. The patch test involves placing a food patch test panel containing small amounts of the suspected food allergens on the patient’s back. Dr. Baxter removes the patches after 48 hours and evaluates the patient for any reaction; she usually also evaluates the patient after 96 hours. Unlike reactions to prick skin tests, patch test positives usually persist for several days.
Managing Life with a Food Allergy
There are no cures for food allergies; however, there are ways to manage life with a food allergy, get the proper nutrition and avoid allergic reactions.
In cases where a specific food has caused a life-threatening reaction, the patient must diligently avoid the suspected allergen. This requires checking the ingredient labels of food products, learning other names for the foods that cause symptoms, and carrying an EpiPen in case of accidental exposure and a systemic reaction.
If history suggests that a food has caused mild symptoms, it may be helpful to pre-medicate with Benadryl or a less sedating antihistamine before eating a meal that contains the allergen.