Do you feel a sudden itching, swelling in the lips or abdominal pain within minutes or hours after consuming food? Then, perhaps you are prone to a food allergy. Peanuts, tree nuts, shrimp, milk and eggs are among the commonest types of food that could trigger food allergies in certain individuals. While the symptoms of food allergies could range between mild to severe (anaphylaxis), food allergies could occur regardless of age limit.
Speaking to Mirror Medicine, Senior Lecturer of Food and Nutrition and the Head of the Department of Applied Nutrition from the Wayamba University of Sri Lanka, Dr. Anoma Chandrasekara explained how food allergies could affect the immune system while elucidating on the precautionary measures that could be taken against developing a food allergy.
QWhat is a food allergy?
A food allergy is an adverse reaction of the body’s immune system to a type of food. Dr. Chandrasekara said such food allergies are a result of sensitivities caused by a reaction of the body’s immune system to specific proteins in the food.
“Allergens are almost always naturally occurring proteins found in food. Any food that contains protein has the theoretical potential to elicit allergic sensitization and, upon subsequent exposure, to cause an allergic reaction in the sensitive individual” Dr. Chandrasekara added.
QWhat are the symptoms related to developing a food allergy?
Elucidating on the symptoms evident in the body upon developing a food allergy, Dr. Chandrasekara pointed out that in allergic individuals, a food protein is mistakenly identified by the immune system as being harmful.
“The first time the individual is exposed to such a protein, the body’s immune system responds by creating antibodies; immunoglobulin E (IgE). When the individual is exposed again to the same food protein, IgE antibodies and chemicals (histamine) are released” she said.
In addition to the above, food allergies may include symptoms of nausea, hives, abdominal pain, swelling of the lips, face and tongue, dizziness and nasal congestion.
QAre food allergies a genetically associated health problem?
Stating that Celiac disease is a genetic disease giving rise to food allergies, she said the symptoms were triggered by the consumption of gluten. “The main sources of gluten in the diet are cereal grains. The only current treatment for celiac disease is to continually maintain a strict gluten-free diet” she said.
QAre food allergies fatal?
Stating that food allergies can be fatal, Dr. Chandrasekara said any type of food could provoke an immune response in allergic individuals. However, she added that only certain foods were responsible for the majority of food allergies in individuals. She also said food allergies could occur at any age regardless of a vulnerable age group.
QWhat are the types of food that generally trigger a food allergy/ food poisoning in most people?
Peanuts, tree nuts (almonds, Brazil nuts, cashews, hazelnuts, macadamia nuts, pecans, pine nuts, pistachio nuts and walnuts), sesame seeds, milk, eggs, fish (including shellfish and crustaceans), soy, wheat and sulphites are food types that could generally trigger a food allergy/ food poisoning in individuals.
QWhat precautionary steps can an individual take to avoid being vulnerable to food allergies?
The only reliable means of treatment are avoidance diets according to Dr. Chandrasekara. “Pharmacologic and other therapeutic methods of prevention of food allergies do not exist. Drugs such as epinephrine (adrenaline) and antihistamine can be used to treat symptoms that develop during an allergic reaction” Dr. Chandrasekara said. She also added that food-allergic individuals should read labels to avoid the offending foods and ingredients.