Food Allergies – Fact and Fiction

Millions of people all over the world are affected by allergies. Tiny particles of dust in the air, a friend’s cat or even freshly cut flowers can lead to sneezing, itching and runny noses in some people. Though we are quite aware of external agents that cause allergies, we do not suspect the seemingly innocent glass of milk or bowl of fresh peanuts. After all, what can they do to us? Unfortunately, people who are allergic to these foods have to be very careful around such foodstuffs.

An allergy is a severe reaction of the body’s immune system. The immune system goes into overdrive when there is a perceived threat to the body. In this case, the body perceives an ingredient in the food, like protein, as potentially harmful and goes all out to attack this ingredient and you, in the process. This is what causes itching, rashes, hives or other reactions in the body. In mild cases, the reactions are also mild. However, some reactions are very uncomfortable and may even be fatal. Examples include vomiting, diarrhea, asthma, wheezing and anaphylaxis.

Food allergies may be caused by almost any ingredient in the food. Even so, specialists have identified eight common allergens that affect the most number of people. These are: wheat, egg, milk, soy, fish, peanuts, nuts of trees and shellfish.

There are a large number of myths surrounding food allergies.

Myth 1: Food allergies are very common.
Food allergies occur in less than 12% of the adult population. Of the 6-8% of children who suffer from food allergies, a huge majority outgrows their allergies as they age. Food intolerance is another matter. Food intolerance happens when a person is unable to digest or process a particular ingredient. Food intolerance produces mild though persistent reactions in the body, which is quite different from the severe allergic reactions caused by food allergens. A good majority of people suffer from food intolerance. Unfortunately, most people mistake food sensitivities for food allergies.

Myth 2: Most people are allergic to milk
Milk allergy is very uncommon in adults, though it is quite common in children below the age of 3. Most children outgrow their allergies as they grow. Adults may experience bloating, nausea or breathing problems after ingesting milk products. But these reactions are a result of being lactose intolerant.

Myth 3: Food allergy is only lifestyle threatening, not life threatening.
This is a serious misconception. Food sensitivity is lifestyle threatening, food allergies can become life threatening. This is because of the inherent nature of allergies, where the body produces severe and sometimes violent reactions to counter an attack. Food allergies are particularly life threatening in small children as they can accidentally ingest something that can cause a violent allergic reaction.

Food allergies must be treated immediately and patients need to be taken to a doctor as soon as possible.

Food allergies can be diagnosed by conducting allergy and intolerance tests. Once an allergy is detected, sufferers must avoid those foods. This is the only way in which food allergies can be treated. Of course, there are medications to relieve symptoms, but, as they say, prevention is always better than cure.

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