Understanding food allergies

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In May 2019, singer Ariana Grande had one hell of a food scare when a severe allergic reaction to tomatoes forced her to cancel two concerts in Florida. “We found out… that… I had an unfortunate allergic reaction to tomatoes and my throat was pretty much closed,” the singer explained via an Instagram post.

What is a food allergy? We inquire about this from Dr. J Anish Anand, Internal Medicine Consultant, Apollo Hospitals.

“Food allergy is the result of an overreaction of the immune system to a food or substance in a food, triggering a protective response in the body,” says Dr. Anish. “This is an immunological reaction undergone by some individuals following the consumption of certain foods and most of the time it involves Immunoglobulin E (IgE) antibodies, which are responsible for a wide range of anaphylactic reactions. Foods that induce excessive synthesis of IgE are called allergens.
The doctor also informs that it was around 2,000 years ago when Hyppocrates recorded the first report of an adverse reaction to foods such as milk. In India, traditional systems of medicine describe many foods as the source of “pitta vata”.

Allergy risks

Everyone reacts differently to different types of food and ingredients. However, some of the aspects that play a role in the occurrence of allergies are as follows:
1., Family history, asthma, eczema, hives or allergies such as hay fever
2. Asthma and food allergy usually occur together
3. Allergies prior to one type of food, which could increase the risk of allergy to another
4. Age: Food allergies are more common in children, especially toddlers and infants, although children also generally become allergic to milk, soy, wheat, and eggs.

Types of food allergies

l IgE-mediated food allergy: It is triggered by the immune system producing an antibody called immunoglobulin E (IgE). Symptoms may appear seconds or even minutes after eating. With it comes the risk of anaphylaxis, a serious and potentially fatal reaction.

1. Non-IgE-mediated food allergy: These allergies are not caused by immunoglobulin E but by other cells of the immune system. This type of allergy is often difficult to diagnose because symptoms take much longer to develop.

2. Mixed IgE and non-IgE-mediated food allergies: Some people may have symptoms of both types.

Symptoms

Symptoms of food allergies range from mild discomfort to severe life-threatening reactions, which require immediate medical intervention. Dr Anish even points out that allergic reactions to foods usually occur within minutes to an hour after eating the offending food, with symptoms lasting for days or even weeks. It also warns that food allergy remains the primary safety concern, especially for foods derived from recombinant DNA.

“Genetically modified foods contain newly expressed proteins that may pose a risk to people with food allergies. And even small amounts of the offending foods can cause serious – and in some cases, even fatal – reactions in susceptible people, ”adds Dr Anish.

“Fortunately, the result is not death in most cases, but various symptoms affecting the skin, gastrointestinal tract, respiratory tract, eyes and / or central nervous system.”

Allergies can manifest themselves in any of the following organs or forms:
1. Skin (itching, redness and swelling)
2. Gastrointestinal tract (eg, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea)
3. Respiratory tract (asthma, itching and swelling of the nose and throat)
4. Eyes (for example, itching and swelling)
5. Cardiovascular system (eg, chest pain, abnormal heart rhythm, and very low blood pressure)

Treat allergies

“It is very difficult to observe a strict elimination especially in India where the prepared foods are a complex mixture”, adds the doctor. “Due to a lack of clinical data, doctors recommend dietary restrictions.”

Medication

Several drugs have been used to protect patients with food allergies, such as antihistamines HI 1-12, steroids, and sodium chromolyate.

“However, it should be understood that these drugs have only a short-term effect or no measurable effect,” explains the doctor. “The effectiveness of immunotherapy in food allergy is still controversial and could sometimes produce severe systemic reactions.”

Prevention

The best way to prevent an allergic reaction is to know and avoid the foods that cause the signs and symptoms. “Certain foods – when used as ingredients in certain dishes – can be well hidden. This is especially true in restaurants and other social settings, ”warns Dr Anish.

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