Posts Tagged ‘food allergy’

Food Allergies: part two

Wednesday, July 20th, 2011

These may cause hives or much more serious reactions

I was intrigued by the MedicineNet.com comments on Food Allergy that I mentioned in my last post.I printed off a nine-page discussion, but then went back to check on the background of the article’s editor and author. The chief editor, who helped found this website fifteen years ago, is a rheumatologist with what appear to be impeccable credentials. The author is a pathologist, not an allergist, but also seems to have a very solid background.

She mentions that roughly 6-8% of kids have food allergies and 3% of adults. Her discussion is detailed, but crucial in it is the fact that true food allergies involve the immune system and may be life-threatening. Many who develop food allergies have relatives who are allergic to pollens or other non-food items (feathers or medicines, for instance). If both your parents have those kinds of allergic problems, you’re more likely to develop food allergies than someone from an allergy-free family.

True food allergic reactions happen soon after ingestion of the nuts or shellfish or whatever causes the problem in a particular person. They may cause mild symptoms (such as oral itching), skin reactions such as hives, gastrointestinal reactions (pain, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea) or led to an asthmatic attack).

I’ll copy in the Mayo Clinic website’s take on the most severe reaction, anaphylaxis.

“Anaphylaxis is a severe, potentially life-threatening allergic reaction. It can occur within seconds or minutes of exposure to something you’re allergic to, such as the venom from a bee sting or a peanut.

The flood of chemicals released by your immune system during anaphylaxis can cause you to go into shock; your blood pressure drops suddenly and your airways narrow, blocking normal breathing. Signs and symptoms of anaphylaxis include a rapid, weak pulse, a skin rash, and nausea and vomiting. Common triggers of anaphylaxis include certain foods, some medications, insect venom and latex.

Anaphylaxis requires an immediate trip to the emergency department and an injection of epinephrine. If anaphylaxis isn’t treated right away, it can lead to unconsciousness or even death.”

Here's another Epi-pen; it can keep you alive

I mentioned an Epi-pen in my previous post on this subject. We keep one in the house since I give my wife her allergy shots; If you’ve had food reactions that appear to be true food allergy your doctor may want you to have one available.

Adults and kids are more likely to react to those foods commonly served in their particular culture, e.g., rice in Japan, fish in Scandinavia.

And to add to the mix, there are several types of cross-reactivity, e.g., allergic reactions from a food similar to one a person has had a severe reaction to or allergies to fruits (especially melons and apples) during the “hay-fever season”  The latter is caused by uncooked foods and may occur in half of those affected by pollens. Typically they are mild, but a tenth of those affected may have more severe problems and 1 or 2% can even have anaphylaxis.

Similarly, some people, usually teens or young adults, can eat a particular food, then exercise and then develop an allergic reaction. Eating two or more hours before exercising seems to prevent this form of food allergy.

There’s lots more information, but suffice it to say food allergy should be taken seriously.

A sneeze, a wheeze or worse: part one

Friday, July 15th, 2011

a common food allergen

I’ve been reading about food allergies recently beginning with a Wall Street Journal article entitled “An ‘Allergy Girl’ Comes Out of Her Bubble.” Sandra Beasley, author of that short piece, is in her early thirties, has major food allergies and has written a memoir, Don’t Kill the Birthday Girl: Tales fom an Allergic Life.

I found two medical websites dealing with the issue, one from the Mayo Clinic. and the other on  MedicineNet.com. We have to sort out food allergy from food intolerance, which is considerably more prevalent. I have mild food intolerance to milk and dairy products, presumably from a low level of the enzyme, lactase, which helps break down the lactose in those foods, but can drink a small glass of milk without any problems resulting. I have a relative who has fairly severe lactose intolerance and strictly avoids milk; if he drinks even a small glass, he’s going to, at the very least, have lots of gas.

We have a local friend who is allergic to a protein in milk; she’ll have bloody diarrhea if she drinks any quantity of it. She can drink coconut milk and, when she joins us at our favorite Thai restaurant, will order Thai ice tea with that substitution.

Mayo’s website says the FDA requires food producers to provide a list of the big eight, the most common ingredients that cause around 80% of food allergies. The list includes milk, eggs, peanuts, so-called “tree nuts,” including almonds, walnuts and cashews, fish including bass, cod and flounder, shellfish (e.g., crab, shrimp and lobster), soy and wheat.

Fresh meat, fresh produce and some oils don’t require labeling, but packaged foods do. That holds true even when the allegen is in a flavoring, coloring or other ingredient. The manufacturers are required to list even small amounts of the allergens if and only if, they’re actually contained in an ingredient.

But there’s another issue or two or three. Some food allergens can be introduced via cross contamination, so many food producers will add statements like, “Manufactured in a factory that also processes peanuts.” This is voluntary on the part of the food company and the FDA is working to make the format of these warning labels more consistent.

But the article from “allergy girl” describes an episode where she asked for a dairy-free menu in a restaurant, then ordered a drink. The cocktail came with a milky liquid bottom layer. Upon inquiry she found the garnish contained pine nuts.

The waiter said, “You didn’t ask for the nut-free menu.”

If you have severe food allergies and eat these, you may need the Epi-pen

In her case, as in the situation for many adults with major food allergies, multiple foods can cause life-threatening reactions.

We ask friends who are coming to our house for a meal what food intolerances and food allergies they have and plan accordingly. But two years ago, one man was about to reach for a dish that had a pine nut topping when his wife grabbed his hand.

“Did you forget to mention the last time you ate pine nuts, we had to visit the emergency room? she asked.

I was happy I had an Epi-pen in the nearby bathroom.