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Allergy Specialists
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Food allergy

Food_allergy_2.jpgA food allergy is an exaggerated immune system to a food protein and the body triggers an allergic reaction. Symptoms can include hives, itching, swelling, vomiting, diarrhoea and nausea. In some cases, it can cause potentially life-threatening symptoms, called anaphylaxis, either by breathing difficulties and/or a sudden drop in blood pressure.

Sometimes food allergy may be less obvious and can be characterised by infantile colic, reflux of stomach contents, eczema, chronic diarrhoea, and failure to thrive. Recent studies have found that up to 40-50 per cent of eczema cases in young children are triggered by food allergy.

Between 6 and 8 per cent of children have a food allergy, and between 2 and 4 per cent of adults. A new study from Melbourne, however, has now put that number at one in 10 children under the age of one. The study used food challenges, the gold standard for food allergy diagnosis. Associate Professor Rohan Ameratunga, with lead researcher Christine Crooks, carried out a survey of Plunket clinics and found a high number of children had adverse reactions to food, yet few were followed up for food allergy. His numbers reflect the Melbourne study, although the survey needs to be validated.

In children, the most common allergies are to cow’s milk and egg, followed by soy, peanuts, tree nuts and wheat. The majority of children will lose their allergies by age three to five years. But allergies to peanuts, tree nuts, fish and shell fish are generally prolonged, which is why these four allergies are the most common amongst adolescents and adults.

Further information on certain food allergies:

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Cow's milk allergy
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Egg allergy
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Fish and shellfish allergy
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Peanut and tree nut allergy
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Seed allergy
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Soy allergy
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Wheat allergy
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Reading food labels

Prevention of Food Allergy

Reasons for the increase in prevalence of food allergy are not known. There is a genetic component, with children of parents with allergies at higher risk, but it is generally acknowledged that environmental factors associated with a westernised life-style are driving this epidemic. Factors being investigated include ‘the hygiene hypothesis’; lifestyle changes leading to lack of Vitamin D; dietary changes; pollutants; and the effect of stress on the immune system. For more information click green arrow below.
ISS 3222 00223 2Preventing Food Allergy

Treatment and prevention

Although there is no cure yet for food allergy, research in the last decade has increased exponentially and researchers are getting much closer to developing a vaccine. They are also looking at changing the way the immune system responds to allergens through desensitisation - this works much the same way as allergy shots work for hay fever.

But until this comes into fruition, avoiding the allergenic food is the only treatment. Most importantly is that if you suspect you — or your child — have a food allergy, you should see an experienced GP, paediatrician or allergy specialist.

Once a diagnosis has been made, either through a skin prick test or a blood test in conjunction with a detailed history, you will have to be taught how to read food labels to appropriately avoid the food you are allergic to, how to recognise early symptoms of a reaction and how to treat it. This is where Allergy New Zealand can help.

There is no proven way to prevent allergies but there are a number of steps that may reduce the risk including  breastfeeding at least six months and avoiding exposing your baby to cigarette smoke.

ISS 3222 00223 2Travelling with food allergies