What Are Allergies, Different Types, Treatments, Diagnosis
how was it processed
Controlling reaction, most common, symptoms, warnings,
How to manage allergies at home, school, work etc.
F. Research -- how it was processed
G. Reaction to research -- personal reactions
Food allergies are all the rage lately, especially according to some reports that espouse numbers about U.S. citizens that are alarming to some experts. Those numbers state that "the most reliable statistics show that food allergies affect between 6 and 8% of children and nearly 4% of adults -- and rates appear to be climbing" (Howard, 2010, p. 122).
However, these numbers may be somewhat misleading, due to the fact that many people who believe they have a food allergy, may in actuality, only have a food intolerance. A recent report found in the Journal of the American Medical Association states that out of 1200 studies concerning food allergies, the vast majority were inconclusive, incorrect, not properly conducted or deficient in some other manner (Riedl, Schneider-Chafen, Newberry, Bravata, Malione, Suttorp, Sundaram, Paige, Towfigh, Hulley, Shekelle, 2010). According to Howard, "between 50 and 90% of people who think they have an allergy actually don't" (p. 122), while according to Riedl et al. there are plenty of people who think that nonspecific symptoms like headaches and fatigue are associated with food allergy, when in fact they are associated with food intolerance (2010).
Much of the confusion is likely due to the fact that most people either do not know about, or do not differentiate between food allergies and food intolerances. Even though both allergies and intolerances often share symptoms there are key differences between the two afflictions.
Allergies -- Descriptions and Types
A food allergy can result in a tingling or itchy sensation in and around the mouth, difficulty in breathing, a swollen tongue or throat, hives, a precipitous drop in blood pressure, vomiting and diarrhea, while food intolerance usually results in bloating and abdominal pain, as well as diarrhea, warmth, headaches and tightness in the chest.
Diagnosing food allergies as compared to food intolerance can be accomplished using a variety of methods, some of the more common ways to do so include; does the person react every single time he/she consumes the food, does the person react not determinant on how much or how little is consumed, and the most common method is a skin test that determines if the person is allergic or not. However, according to one recent report "food allergies and sensitivities account for approximately 60% of all undiagnosed conditions" (Russell, Wright, 2010, p. 47). One of the reasons for checking to determine any allergies and intolerances is because of the many problems that can result from not eating correctly. Some of those problems include; asthma, enuresis, gastritis, recurrent headaches, canker sores, chronic lower back pain, and ear infections during a person's childhood. Some individuals have suffered from chronic fatigue, diarrhea, gas, bronchitis and bladder infections contributed to by the foods they were intolerant of.
A recent report may have phrased the differences in the best manner by providing the following description "the difference: food allergies are orchestrated by the body's immune system; food intolerance results from an inability of the gut to digest food normally" (Harvard Women's, 2011, p. 4).
Some of the most common food allergies include shellfish, peanuts, milk and eggs while common food intolerances include sulfite (as in wine), MSG, and lactose that can commonly be found in many dairy products.
When eaten, an allergic reaction is often triggered that includes bodily responses to a foreign object that is not usually deemed as harmful to the body. The individual's immune system creates an antibody called immunoglobulin E (IgE). This antibody sticks to the surface of the immune cells that are around the blood vessels in the skin, stomach and the individual's airway. Once the offending food is detected the immunes system triggers a release of chemicals that stimulate nerves and dilate the blood vessels. In extreme cases, the entire system goes into overdrive causing extreme conditions that include; constricted airways, loss of consciousness, a dramatic drop in blood pressure and even death.
Some of the immediate treatments that are available on the market to combat anaphylaxis (the extreme reaction described above) include quick injections of epinephrine and immediate medical attention by trained professionals. Longer term treatments include a number of steps that start with a complete diagnosis to determine if the reaction is being triggered by a food intolerance or a food allergy.
The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) states on its website that "there is currently no cure for food allergies, and the available treatments only ease the symptoms of a food-induced allergic reaction" (Food Allergy, 2011) which makes it especially important to know what foods the person can and cannot safely eat. Just because there is no cure, does not mean that there is no treatment, however, in this case, the treatments are relatively scarce in nature.
Treatments, beside the injections of epinephrine, include wearing medical bracelets that alert medical responders to the condition, and knowing the difference(s) between food allergic reactions and food intolerances. It would seem that this is one medical condition that has relatively few treatment options available, and because of that, the affliction is much more dangerous to those individuals who do not know if they are prone to it or not.
Knowing what foods trigger allergic reactions in an individual is a major part of containing the disease. According to the NIAID, there are six methods for garnering information about the allergies that will assist in treating it. Those six steps to diagnosis include; 1) a detailed personal and family history taken by the physician, 2) keeping a diary of the person's diet, 3) an elimination diet, 4) skin tests, 5) blood tests and 6) an oral food challenge.
If an individual suspects a food allergy the first step is to talk to a physician about the possibilities. The physician will take a detailed personal and family history that includes what types of foods and reactions the person, and other family members have had.
The physician might then ask the patient to keep a diary of everything consumed by the person on a daily basis. The diary will help to track and ascertain what foods, if any, result in allergic type reactions. Once a food is determined to be the culprit, the physician is likely going to eliminate it from the individuals' diet to see if there is a corresponding absence of reactions. If the results of the elimination test suggests the suspected food is the allergen, a skin test might be performed to confirm the diagnosis. The skin test takes place when a small piece of the food is placed under the skin. If the skin turns red and looks irritated the allergy is confirmed. In lieu of a skin test, a blood sample can be drawn that also confirms the allergy. Finally, an oral food challenge might be conducted that provides the patient with different foods, some that contain the allergen, some that do not. If the body reacts to the allergen, the diagnosis is confirmed. Much of this information is derived from the NIAID website, and one interesting aspect to their information is the constant reminder that these steps and the tests do not individually confirm the diagnosis or allergy, instead; according to the NIAID the "healthcare professionals must combine these test results with information about your history of reactions to food to make an accurate diagnosis of food allergy" (NIAID, 2011).
One sure fired method of preventing an allergic reaction is to not ingest the allergen in the first place. To accomplish this feat, the individual must know what the allergen is in order to stay away from it. Knowing the allergen is only part of the solution, however. The individual must also always be on the alert for food s that might contain the allergen.
Reading food labels is one way to be on the alert, another method is to keep the hands and mouth areas clean. Washing one's hands and face often removes the allergen in an effective manner. The person with the allergy must also know how to treat the reactions in a quick and efficient method, and must always have the essential tools nearby in case of an attack.
Knowing the difference between the individual's food intolerances and food allergies is also important, as is knowing the symptoms of them both. According to a recent report there are three types of therapy that have shown success in controlling the less severe reactions that assist the individual in coping with the symptoms. Those three types of therapy have "shown varying degrees of success in reducing gas, bloating and other symptoms" (Harvard, 2011). The therapy includes; enzyme supplementation, probiotics and rifaximin. Enzyme supplementation is a method of using lactase-enhanced supplements or dairy products to help the individual digest dairy foods. Called 'Beano' tablets,…