These Are Some of the Best Natural Ways to Manage Food Allergies

If you or someone you love suffers from food allergies, you know how challenging they can be. With severe, life-threatening cases, they can be downright terrifying.

Indeed, food allergies aren’t to be taken lightly.

Yet, with individuals having so many restrictive diets, food intolerances, and food allergies in today’s world, it gets confusing!

Here are the basics on food allergies, as well as tips for minimizing reactions.

About Food Allergies

Food Allergies 2 Food allergies are very common – and they affect certain demographics more than others.

According to a report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) earlier this year, nearly 6% of children and adults have food allergies. Also, children and Black, Non-Hispanic adults are slightly more likely to have food allergies than the general population.

A food allergy occurs when your immune system perceives a particular food or a substance in a food as a dangerous threat or invader. In defense, the immune system produces antibodies called Immunoglobulin E (IgE). These antibodies travel to cells that release chemicals, which causes an allergic reaction. A food allergy always triggers an immune response to greater or lesser degrees.

Food allergies differ from food intolerances. Food intolerances occur when your digestive system has trouble breaking down a certain food. Also called a food sensitivity (think gluten or dairy), it usually results in symptoms such as gas, bloating, diarrhea, and abdominal pain. Food intolerances aren’t life-threatening and usually resolve themselves in hours.

Many people have food restrictions as well due to heart health issues, blood sugar issues, weight maintenance, or personal/religious beliefs.

The key idea to remember about food allergies is that they involve an immune response.

While most symptoms from food allergies are mild, affecting the skin or digestion, some can be severe. The CDC reports that food allergies are responsible for approximately 30,000 emergency  room visits and 150–200 deaths each year.

They can be tricky too as allergic reactions to foods can change over time. While an initial reaction may cause mild problems, a future exposure might be severe or vice versa.

Allergies tend to run in families but there’s no genetic marker to predict who will develop one. Some research indicates that the younger siblings of a child with a peanut allergy will likely be allergic to peanuts as well.

Top Foods that Cause Allergic Reactions

The FDA lists the following 9 top food allergens, which are responsible for more than 90 percent of allergic reactions to foods.

  • Milk
  • Egg
  • Fish
  • Shellfish
  • Tree nuts
  • Wheat
  • Peanuts
  • Soybeans
  • Sesame

Children may outgrow their allergic reactions to milk and to eggs, but peanut and tree nut allergies tend to persist.

Adults are most commonly allergic to nuts, fish, and shellfish – as well as certain fruit and vegetables (due to pollen cross-reactivity). Pollen cross-reactivity is referred to as pollen food allergy syndrome or oral allergy syndrome. It’s a contact allergic reaction that occurs upon contact of the mouth and throat with raw fruits or vegetables that contain a protein similar to a protein in pollen, which then triggers the immune response.

Cross-reactivity can occur with other foods as well. For example, an individual allergic to one tree nut may be cross-reactive to others, or someone allergic to shrimp may react to crab and lobster.

Symptoms of Food Allergies

Symptoms of food allergies typically involve the skin, respiratory tract, gut, and cardiovascular system.

Here are some of the most common:

  • Itchy or tingling sensation inside the mouth, throat, or ears
  • Hives, itching, or eczema
  • Tight, hoarse throat; trouble swallowing
  • Swelling of the lips, face, tongue and throat or other parts of the body
  • Shortness of breath
  • Wheezing
  • Repetitive cough
  • Dizziness, lightheadedness, or fainting
  • Abdominal pain, diarrhea, nausea, or vomiting
  • Weak pulse
  • Pale or blue coloring of skin
  • Circulatory collapse

Symptoms usually occur within two hours of ingestion, but often they start within minutes. In rare instances, the reaction may be delayed by four to six hours or more.

The most severe and frightening allergic reaction to a food allergen is called anaphylaxis. Potentially life-threatening, the signs of anaphylaxis may include:

  • Constriction of the airways
  • Swollen throat or a lump sensation in the throat, making it hard to breathe
  • Shock with a dramatic drop in blood pressure
  • Rapid pulse
  • Dizziness, feeling lightheaded, or loss of consciousness

This type of severe reaction occurs when the over-release of chemicals puts the person into shock. Emergency treatment is critical in such circumstances. If anaphylaxis goes untreated, it can cause coma or even death.

Anaphylaxis is generally treated with the administration of epinephrine. Individuals who have severe food allergies may carry an EpiPen, which allows for immediate dispensing of epinephrine to counter an allergic reaction. Epinephrine works quickly to open up the airways, improve blood pressure, and accelerate heart rate.

5 of the Best Natural Ways to Manage Food Allergies

If you think you have a food allergy, here’s what experts recommend.

  1. See An Allergist

An allergist can administer a skin-prick test or blood test to measure if your body’s immune response is activated by a particular food exposure, which is helpful in ruling out certain foods. An allergist can also educate you about your food allergies and strategize on what you can do to minimize exposure.

  1. Always Read Labels

Food labels are required to include information about major allergens. They will tell you if a food product contains milk protein or byproducts of wheat, for example, or whether a food was produced in a facility that processes nuts.

  1. Make Cooking at Home Safe

In extreme cases of food allergies, you may need to completely eliminate allergen-containing foods from your home. More likely though (if you live with other people), you simply need to take measures to avoid cross-contamination. It’s a good idea to have two sets of cooking and eating utensils – one solely for the allergic person. Take care to thoroughly wash dishes and utensils using hot water between uses.

  1. Ensure Your Safety When Dining Out

When dining out, always tell restaurant staff (server, manager, or chef) or your dinner host about your food allergy and express the importance of avoiding your specific food allergens. Strongly consider carrying a “chef card,” which is a printed notecard you can fit in your wallet that states your specific allergies, their severity, and the need for kitchen staff to use clean surfaces and utensils be free of traces of your food allergens.

  1. Have Medication and a Plan

Have a plan that you can create with your allergist of the steps you’ll take if you accidentally eat an allergen. Carry a printed copy of the plan with you. If your allergist has prescribed emergency medication for you (EpiPen or TwinJet), always carry two current doses with you.

Enjoy Food

If you or your loved one takes these precautions and works with an allergist, it will surely lessen your fears, minimize allergic episodes, and increase your enjoyment of food and life.

 

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Kim Henderson
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