What is a food allergy?
A food allergy is an abnormal reaction by the immune system to normally harmless stimuli. It is the protein in food that causes the body to falsely react, the type of protein that triggers a reaction can vary between individuals and determines what foods they can and can not eat. When food containing the allergen is ingested, a reaction usually follows within minutes.
Common foods that trigger allergy include egg, soy, fish, shell fish, dairy, peanuts and gluten.
How does a food allergy differ from an intolerance?
Food allergies can provoke a more severe reaction than food intolerance and the onset is generally more immediate. However, they can both share some similar symptoms. Food intolerance is a chemical reaction and does not trigger an immune response, with the exception of coeliac disease.
Individuals with an allergy need to completely exclude that food from their diet. In contrast, some people with a food intolerance are able to continue eating the food until a certain threshold is reached and only then symptoms appear. However, this is not always advised.
Anaphylaxis is a severe allergic reaction with a rapid onset. If an individual goes in to anaphylactic shock, they must be treated immediately with an adrenaline injector pen (EpiPen). Anaphylaxis is life threatening and is therefore a medical emergency.
Tips to prevent allergic reaction
- Familiarise yourself with food labels. It may not be obvious that some foods contain an allergen. Look for ‘may contain’ statements which mean there is a risk that the product has been in contact with an allergen during production.
- Prepare for eating out. Clearly notify the appropriate people about your allergy, this should be done in advance. Questions about food ingredients, preparation and storage should also be asked to ensure there is no risk of cross contamination. If in doubt, do not eat the food. Ensure you have an EpiPen with you.
- Notify any institutions of your allergy or of your child’s allergy. This may involve schools, sport clubs and child care. A treatment plan for an allergic reaction should be put in place and an EpiPen kept by the institution.
- Anyone who has contact with your child or minds them should be aware of their allergy and treatment of anaphylaxis. For extremely sensitive individuals, it can take as little as being in contact with someone who has consumed or handled the allergen to trigger a reaction. Sneezing or coughing can also transfer particles of the food protein.
- Encourage your child to ask if a food can be eaten first and as they age, encourage them to start reading food labels. Discourage sharing of food at school.
- Food products containing the allergen should not be kept in the house. Removing them eliminates the risk of accidental consumption or cross contamination.
Before eliminating food from your diet, advice from a dietitian should be sought to avoid unnecessary restriction of nutritious foods. For more detailed advice and tips, make an appointment with Belinda Elwin at ENT Wellbeing 1300 123 368.