by Kimberly Allen, RN
At some time during our life most of us will experience an unpleasant reaction to something we ate and ask ourselves if maybe we have developed a food allergy. Most likely what has happened is that you’ve developed a food intolerance. Food intolerance’s are not only much more common than food allergies the are significantly different. A food allergy is when a particular food triggers an abnormal response from your immune system. In a food intolerance there is no involvement of the immune system, for example a milk allergy is not the same as milk or lactose intolerance. Milk intolerance is due to a deficiency in lactase and in a milk allergy the milk triggers an abnormal immune response.
While food intolerance’s can be uncomfortable and a challenge they are rarely serious or life threatening if you accidentally eat something containing the food you have an intolerance to. On the other hand food allergies can be very serious and life threatening if you accidentally eat something containing the food you are allergic to. I remember a girl from school that had an allergy to nuts. One day she and 2 other girls headed to the mall to go shopping, while on the way one of the other girls had some chocolate chip cookies that her mother had made. She shared the cookies with the other girls and with in minutes the girl with the nut allergy asked her friend if the cookies had nuts in them. the girl wasn’t sure but thought so, well the girl with the allergy knew so. After just 2 small bites she was starting to have trouble breathing. Now this was before people with these types of allergies carried EpiPens or cell phones so there was no immediate relief to be had. As they were already in the vehicle on their way to the mall they detoured to the nearest police station as it was much closer than the nearest hospital. The girl was quickly going into anaphlactic shock, fortunately the local paramedics are stationed in the same building as the police so the paramedics administered epinephrine and she made a full recovery. Ever since that day she has been very careful to take her allergy seriously.
In the US there are over 3 million children suffering with food allergies. Though most adults with food allergies have had them since childhood there are still many that develop food allergies in adulthood. Some children may out grow their allergy while others don’t. Certain food allergies like to milk and eggs tend to resolve as the child gets older while those with allergies to nuts or shell fish do not.
Food allergies in children tend to be different then the food allergies in adults. In children the most common food allergies are usually related to milk, eggs, nuts, and certain fruits like strawberries and tomatoes. While adults tend to be allergic to shellfish, nuts, eggs and fish. Peanuts in particular are a very dangerous allergy, if someone that is allergic to peanuts consumes just 1/44,000 of a peanut kernel it can trigger a severe reaction.
The best way to treat a food allergy is to avoid the food that triggers your symptoms. However, sometimes no matter how hard you try to avoid those foods you can still encounter them. If you have allergies that produce minor symptoms like hives and itching there are numerous over the counter antihistamines that can help relieve your symptoms. However, if you are a person that gets severe symptoms like swelling of your airway and difficulty breathing your should carry an EpiPen with you at all times. An EpiPen is an autoinjector of epinephrine that injects a single dose of epinephrine when you press it against your thigh. It’s important that not only you but the people that are frequently around you know how to use the EpiPen and always remember to get it refilled after use. Also, hopefully you will not need to use it so keep an eye on thye expiration date and be sure to get it renewed before it expires.
Kimberly Allen is a registered nurse with an AND in nursing. She has worked in ACF, LCF and psychiatric facilities, although she spent most of her career as a home health expert. She is now a regular contributor to HealthAndFitnessTalk.com, dispensing advice and knowledge about medical issues and questions. You can reach her with any comments or questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.