Food Allergy Awareness Week
May 8th is actually the start of Food Allergy Awareness Week, and according to FARE (Food Allergy Research & Education) one in thirteen children under the age of eighteen has a food allergy. Researchers estimate that 15 million Americans have food allergies. The economic cost of children’s food allergies is nearly $25 billion annually. Food allergies are on the rise but there’s no clear and obvious reason that explains this uptick.
A reaction to food can be mild, as in an itchy mouth, to severe, as in anaphylaxis, a severe and potentially deadly response. People who know they are potentially at risk for anaphylaxis carry epinephrine with them which can be administered at the first sign of food allergy symptoms. The medication is lifesaving.
If you have food allergies and asthma you are at increased risk of severe or fatal food allergy reactions. Failure to treat anaphylaxis within minutes can result in a fatality. Your risk of having a food allergy is heightened if you have other allergic-like diseases including eczema, asthma, or environmental allergies like hay fever. Food allergies can also be a trigger for or associated with other allergic-type conditions like atopic dermatitis and eosinophilic gastrointestinal diseases.
The eight most common foods that instigate food allergy are: milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, soy, wheat, fish and shellfish. Exposure to even trace amount of these or any food you are allergic to can instigate a serious allergic reaction. There have been cases of individuals who are so sensitive to a food, that kissing someone who just ate that food and merely being exposed to tiny remnants is enough to cause a life-threatening reaction.
Patients often wonder if they can outgrow their allergy. Nut allergies (peanut and tree nut) are often lifelong allergies, but allergies to cow’s milk, eggs and soy, which start in childhood can disappear in the teen or early adult years. Fish and shellfish may also be lifelong allergies. In recent years experts observe that it seems to take longer to outgrow these allergies. Still, most kids will outgrow these food allergies by age sixteen.
Once you’re diagnosed with a food allergy or multiple food allergies, you and your doctor will need to devise a detailed plan so you can avoid exposure to the foods or ingredients. You should also have an emergency action plan that close family members, friends, school or work employees are aware of, in the event you do experience an escalating life-threatening reaction.
A lot of talk has been generated recently regarding gluten “allergy.” The more appropriate term is gluten sensitivity or non-celiac gluten sensitivity (NCGS). Individuals with this condition do not test positive for celiac disease or a wheat allergy, nor do they have small intestine disease or tissue transglutaminase antibodies which is found in celiac disease. They do however have symptoms that may include: weight loss, iron-folate-vitamin B12 deficiency, abdominal bloating or distension, severe or recurrent loose bowel movements.
Many people “self-diagnose” NCGS, when in fact, they should speak with their healthcare practitioner to either confirm the diagnosis or identify what other disease process may be the cause of the symptoms. There is no benefit to removing gluten or wheat from your diet if you do not have celiac disease or NCGS.