Information on Food Allergy
Food allergy fears
The recent outbreak of media attention has brought food allergy to the forefront
of many people's minds. A few tragic peanut-allergy related deaths have caused
schools to begin re-examining their health and safety policies, as well as their
ability to respond to student health emergencies. This strengthened concern for
student health will certainly be more beneficial for all students.
However, the sensational nature of media attention towards food allergies should
be complemented by a more detailed and informative treatment of food allergies.
Food allergy is not nearly so common as many people think. In fact, it affects
less than 1% of adults. Many people who suffer from an adverse reaction to
certain foods are actually suffering from food intolerance, which affects up to
10% of the adult population.
Food allergy vs. food intolerance
Food allergy and food intolerance can cause very similar symptoms, making it
difficult to distinguish between the two. What makes food allergy different from
food intolerance is how it is caused. A food allergy is when a specific immune
reaction occurs in the body as a response to a food. A certain food protein is
misidentified as an offender by the immune system, and a reaction occurs as a
means of fighting it. Of course, with a food allergy, the protein in question is
harmless and the reaction itself is the problem. A food intolerance is a
reaction that occurs for non-immunological reasons.
There are several reasons for food intolerance. A common one is some sort of
metabolic problem. For example, someone who is deficient in lactase, the enzyme
needed to digest milk, will get sick after they consume milk. This is not an
allergic response to the proteins that make up milk, but rather an inability to
digest milk. A similar condition, called celiac, is a stomach intolerance to
gluten, a protein found in wheat.
Another frequent reason for food intolerance is a reaction to different
chemicals found in certain foods. Caffeine, tyramine, histamine, tryptamine and
other chemicals can make sensitive individuals sick. These chemicals are found
in natural foods like tea or coffee, avocados, strawberries, shrimp, wine, and
cheese, and in less natural foods like colas, food dyes, MSG, and other food
Identifying food allergy and food intolerance
The symptoms exhibited by both food allergy and food intolerance may often be
the same: itching, swelling, trouble breathing, or vomiting, diarrhea, and
stomach upset. Food intolerance may also cause headaches, as well as
psychological symptoms like anxiety, depression, and trouble sleeping. For this
reason, a food intolerance can take longer to identify – you may not know that
something you're eating is what's responsible for your mood swings. Foods
frequently blamed for food allergies and food intolerance include nuts, eggs,
milk, fish and shellfish, wheat, chocolate, and yeast.
Managing food allergy and food intolerance
The only way to treat food allergy is simple allergen avoidance. If there is a
risk of anaphylaxis
(a severe, life-threatening allergic reaction), you should carry an
adrenaline auto-injector (like Epipen) everywhere.
Obviously, before you can avoid a certain food, it's necessary to know which
food is causing your reaction. At times it is easy to tell, if the food is eaten
less often and the reaction is immediate. At other times, however, it can be
extremely difficult to tell which food is causing your symptoms. In this
situation, physicians sometimes recommend an elimination diet, where certain
foods are eliminated and then slowly reintroduced into the diet. Of course, you
should seek the advice of a medical professional before making any radical
changes to your diet.
Natural rubber latex is an extremely common substance, found in a
variety of everyday products. Derived from a liquid found in
tropical rubber trees, it is processed to make rubber products like
toys, pacifier and baby bottle nipples, diapers and feminine pads,
condoms, bandages, bulb syringes, erasers, and many medical and
dental supplies. Thin, stretchy latex, like in condoms, balloons,
and gloves, is especially allergenic, causing the most severe
reactions. Latex gloves in particular are generally coated with
powder, which tends to carry latex particles, dispersing them into
the air or allowing them to settle on other parts of skin. Because
of this increased exposure to latex, health care workers have the
highest incidence of latex allergy, which affects up to 10% of
health care professionals.
Most adults with latex allergy are health care professionals, or
those who have been exposed to latex a great deal in one way or
another. Rubber industry or pharmaceutical industry workers;
individuals who have had many surgeries, particularly early in life;
and children with spina bifida all run a higher risk of latex allergy.
People who are allergic to latex may experience cross reactivity
with certain foods, such as banana, avocado, kiwi, tomatoes, melon,
and chestnuts. These foods contain a protein which is similar in
make up to the allergenic protein in latex. Someone who is
developing an allergy to latex because of increased exposure may
find they begin to experience symptoms after eating bananas and
avocados as well, even if they have not previously been allergic to
these foods. And, an allergy to these foods, as well as any other
allergy, is predictive of a higher likelihood of a latex allergy.
Latex allergy can cause the following symptoms:
- rash or contact dermatitis, bumps or sores on hand
- upset stomach
- itchy watery eyes
- sneezing, coughing, runny nose
- tight chest, trouble breathing
Here's how you can manage an allergy to latex:
- Do your best to reduce your contact with latex by analyzing the
products in your environment and removing any which contain latex.
Most latex-containing products have non-latex substitutes, although
they may be more expensive.
- If you are a healthcare worker, or a patient, no one around you
should wear latex gloves. Even if they do not touch you with the
latex, the powder particles in the air may cause a reaction. If
non-latex containing gloves are not available, they should at least
wear powder-free latex gloves.
- Wear or carry a medic alert bracelet or keychain which will warn
doctors and healthcare workers of your allergy in the case of an
- Carry an epinephrine auto-injector with you in the case of an
anaphylactic reaction. Make sure that you know how to use it, and
it's a good idea if your family and close friends know how to use it
information provided in this newsletter does not constitute medical advice and is
for your general information only. For information regarding
specific questions, concerns, or conditions, please consult a