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Food Allergies
 

Food allergy is a serious medical condition affecting up to 15 million people in the United States, including 1 in 13 children.

 

Whether you’re newly diagnosed or brushing up on the facts, learning all you can about the disease is the key to staying safe and living well with food allergies.

 
 
 
What is Food Allergy?
 

The job of the body’s immune system is to identify and destroy germs (such as bacteria or viruses) that make you sick. A food allergy results when the immune system mistakenly targets a harmless food protein – an allergen – as a threat and attacks it.

Unlike other types of food disorders, such as intolerances, food allergies are “IgE mediated.”

 

This means that your immune system produces abnormally large amounts of an antibody called immunoglobulin E — IgE for short. IgE antibodies fight the “enemy” food allergens by releasing histamine and other chemicals, which trigger the symptoms of an allergic reaction. 

 
 
 
Signs and symptoms of food allergy: Diagnosis
 

An allergic reaction to any food may vary from a mild skin reaction to a severe life-threatening shock. The clinical features of food allergy may vary between children and adults. The children usually present with rashes and redness of the skin accompanied with itching or even blisters in occasional cases.

Sometimes, respiratory features including cough, shortness of breath have also been documented both in children and adults with an allergic reaction to food allergen. However, the clinical presentation in adults is more direct and manifested as nausea, vomiting, abdominal bloating or cramps, accompanied with diarrhoea.

 

There is no set demarcation in clinical presentation between children and adults and overlapping of symptoms may also take place. It is not an infectious disorder and cannot be transmitted from person to person.

Certain diagnostic tests like skin prick test or blood test may help in diagnosing the allergic condition. Moreover non-invasive tests like ‘elimination test’ may also be done in some individuals to establish the diagnosis. ‘Elimination test’ requires eliminating the suspecting food allergen from the diet for a few days and then resuming it again. This may help in detection of the offending food allergen.


 
 
 
Causes and prevention of food allergy
 

The exact cause of this allergic phenomenon is not clear. Genetic factors may play a strong role in causation. Generally, it may be associated with other allergic conditions like allergic rhinitis, atopic eczema or asthma. Milk and eggs are the common food allergens in children.

 

Alternatively, adults are usually more sensitive to products like lobsters, shrimp, crabs, nuts and soybeans.

 

 
 
 
Food allergy: Complications
 

Occasionally, food allergy may cause a severe reaction called as anaphylactic reaction which is characterised by narrowing of air passages resulting in shortness of breath. Sometimes, the individual may also have hoarseness of voice and swelling of the voice box.

 

Very rarely, this may result in anaphylactic shock wherein the airways are seriously compromised and the individual loses consciousness. This can even cause death if not provided immediate medical attention.
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