Special Diets for Food Allergies

A food allergy is caused when the body’s immune system mistakes an ingredient in food, typically a protein, as harmful and creates a defense system to fight it. An allergic reaction occurs when the antibodies are battling an invading food protein. Although a person can have an allergic reaction to almost any food, there are several foods in general which cause all food related allergic reactions. These foods include milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, fish, shellfish, soy, and wheat.

Peanut allergy affects approximately 1 million people in the United States alone. As the most common cause of life threatening allergic reactions, peanut allergies account for 80 percent of fatal or near fatal allergic reactions each year. The risk of having an allergic reaction may be reduced by knowing as much as possible about peanut allergy and how to avoid peanut containing products. Tests may be administered to help diagnose peanut allergy so it is vital to take steps to avoid future and potentially worse reactions. Common food products that can trigger peanut allergy symptoms include peanut butter, peanut flour, and ground or mixed nuts, along with several others.

Avoidance is the only true treatment for food allergy. Neither allergy shots nor oral desensitization have proven to be a safe or effective way in reducing food allergy. An individual may be allergic to any food, such as vegetables, fruits, and meats there are eight particular foods which account for the majority of all food allergic reactions. These particular foods are milk, peanut, fish, egg, tree nut, shellfish, soy, and wheat. Allergic reactions to certain foods typically begin within minutes to a few hours after eating the food.

Food allergies are typically treated by avoiding the offending allergen in the diet. Once a food to which the patient is sensitive has been identified, the food must be removed from the diet. To do this, patients need to read a lengthy and detailed list of ingredients on the label for each food they consider eating. Many allergy producing foods such as eggs, peanuts, and milk appear in foods that are not ordinarily associated with them. Patients with severe food allergies must be prepared to treat an anaphylactic reaction. These individuals should carry a syringe of adrenaline, or epinephrine, obtained by prescription from their doctors and be prepared to self administer it if they think they are developing an allergic reaction. They should then seek immediate medical help by either calling 911 or having themselves transported to an emergency room.

Diagnosing a food allergy can be a challenge for most doctors. First the doctor must determine if the patient is having an adverse reaction to specific foods. The doctor makes this assessment with the help of a detailed history from the patient, the patient’s dietary diary, or an elimination diet. The doctor then confirms the diagnosis by the more objective skin tests, blood tests, or food challenges. The dietary history is the most important diagnostic tool. The physician interviews the patient to determine if the facts are consistent with a food allergy. If the patientís history, dietary diary, or elimination diet suggests that a specific food allergy is likely, the doctor will then use tests, such as skin tests, blood tests, and a food challenge, which can more objectively confirm an allergic response to food.

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