Food allergies have become more prevalent over the past 15 years. Previously, only 3% of children and 1% of adults were thought to have food allergies. However, new information indicates that 6-8% of children and 3% of adults now have food allergies.
Food allergies can present in different ways. Most commonly when people are allergic to a food they develop hives or welts within a few minutes after ingesting the food. At times allergic individuals will develop difficulty breathing, abdominal pain, coughing, wheezing, throat closing, vomiting or dizziness. Children, as opposed to adults, can have their eczema exacerbated from foods. Gastrointestinal symptoms alone rarely occur as a symptom of food allergies in the adult population although it can happen.
Some people have adverse reactions to foods that are not considered true allergies. Examples of these food sensitivities are individuals who experience headaches after ingestion of MSG, wine, nuts or moldy cheese. Individuals who are missing the enzyme that breaks down the sugar in milk, lactose, will experience symptoms such as bloating, gas, and diarrhea. This is not considered an allergy.
The most common foods that infants are allergic to are milk, eggs, wheat and soy. Many of them will outgrow these allergies as they grow older. In children and adults, peanuts, tree nuts, shellfish and fish are the most common foods that cause allergic reactions.
Approximately 1.5% of the U.S. population has a peanut allergy. Allergies to sesame seed, which is found in hummus, is becoming more common. Unfortunately only 20% of children outgrow peanut allergies and 10% will outgrow tree nut allergies.
In the past the only therapy available for food allergies was avoidance of the allergic food. It was felt that avoiding the allergic food would allow the person to outgrow the allergy sooner. This is no longer felt to be true. Allergic individuals would and still do carry antihistamines and injectable epinephrine (Epi Pens) in serious cases, to treat an allergic reaction after an accidental exposure. New research indicates, that in certain cases, small amounts of exposure to the allergen can actually help outgrow the allergy. Specifically, this is commonly done in the case of a mild allergy to milk and eggs. Patients with a milk or egg allergy can be challenged in a controlled environment such as an allergist’s office. It has been found that 75% of egg and 75% of milk allergic patients will pass a food challenge to products that are baked (not cooked) with these ingredients such as muffins or cookies.
The challenge is a relatively safe procedure. If they pass the challenge, the individuals are encouraged to ingest products baked with either the egg or milk. Doing this has been found to help outgrow the milk or egg allergy by desensitizing the individual. For more serious allergies such as to nuts, peanuts and sesame seeds, small amounts of exposure can cause severe reactions. For that reason, attempts at desensitization to these foods can be dangerous and are only performed experimentally in a hospital setting.
There is much research going on in the area of food allergies and hopefully other breakthroughs will occur in the near future.
If you feel you or your child might be suffering from allergies, you can set up an appointment with Dr. Resnick by calling 845-471-3112.