Food Allergies

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Food that is well prepared and plated is a beauty to behold and the joy that accompanies such a meal is unmatched.  But what happens when in the process of enjoying the meal, a reaction occurs that brings about discomfort and the only alternative is to avoid the meal? This perfectly describes what people with food allergies go through.  While only 2.5% of the population globally is affected (WHO), this conversation cannot be dismissed.

A food allergic reaction occurs when the immune system overreacts to a food or food ingredient because it identifies it as a hazard hence causing a protective response.  Food allergies are not to be confused with food intolerance as the latter does not interfere with the immune system but rather the digestive system.  Therefore, intolerance to lactose is not to be termed as an allergy to milk.

Children are mostly affected by food allergies but this does not exclude the adult population.  It is estimated that 4-6% of children and 1-3% of adults are affected (WHO).  More than 70 foods can cause an adverse immune reaction but only 8 food types account for about 90% of all reactions.  These foods include eggs, milk, peanuts, tree nuts, fish, shellfish, wheat, and any grain with gluten and soy.  Additives such as sulphites in a concentration of 10mg/kg or more are also reported to induce hyperactivity.

In case any of the aforementioned foods are ingested, a reaction occurs that can be exhibited in one of the following symptoms:

  1. Recurrent vomiting
  2. Loose stool/ constipation
  3. Abdominal pain
  4. Headaches
  5. Coughs, repetitive wheezing, and difficulty in breathing
  6. Colic
  7. Hives
  8. Swollen tongue, weak pulse, and dizziness

The worst form of an allergic reaction is anaphylactic shock; this causes the body to go into a red alert state within minutes of exposure to the food allergen.  As soon as the ingestion takes place, huge amounts of histamine are released causing the blood vessels to swell.  If the swelling occurs in the lungs, throat, and mouth then breathing is constrained.  Additionally, hives appear on the skin and the blood vessels start to leak causing a drastic drop in blood pressure resulting in the passing out of the individual.

To avoid both acute and severe allergic reactions it is advisable to avoid food or ingredients derived from the allergens.  Further, identify the specific food that triggers such an immune response requires one to at least have a food diary where they can note down the foods consumed.  Most food-related symptoms occur within 2 hours of ingestion; in rare cases the reaction may be delayed by 4-6 hours.  Delayed reactions commonly occur in children.  In such cases, when introducing new foods, be systemic, and give a 2-day break for any reactions that may occur.

Preventing and managing allergic reactions is mostly by removing the offending food.  Also, exclusively breastfeeding your baby can aid in lowering the risk.  Further getting to read the food labels on products available on the shelves can be of great help.  Regardless of the Codex Alimentarius that recommends that all food products declare any present allergens some ingredients may be hidden.  Hidden ingredients termed as emulsifiers or binders can signal the presence of eggs or soy.   Hence the need to ask when in doubt.

Food allergies are manageable though they require a dual partnership from both the individual and food manufacturer or producer.  The individual should identify allergens that trigger hyperactivity and avoid these foods. Manufacturers ought to clearly label the food product as well as avoid cross-contamination of the non-allergic product with allergens.

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