Definition: Defining the Meaning of Food Allergy
A food allergy is an adverse immune response to certain kinds of food. Food allergies are distinct from other adverse responses to food, such as food intolerance, pharmacological reactions, and toxin-mediated reactions. The protein in the food is the most common allergic component. These kinds of allergies occur when the body's immune system mistakenly identifies a protein as harmful.
Difference Between a Food Allergy and Food Intolerance
Food Allergy - A food allergy is an immune system response. It occurs when the body mistakes an ingredient in food, usually a protein, as harmful and creates a defense system (antibodies) to fight it. Food allergy symptoms develop when the antibodies are battling the "invading" food. The most common food allergies are peanuts, tree nuts (such as walnuts, pecans and almonds), fish, and shellfish, milk, eggs, soy products, and wheat.
Food Intolerance - Food intolerance is a digestive system response rather than an immune system response. It occurs when something in a food irritates a person's digestive system or when a person is unable to properly digest or breakdown, the food. Intolerance to lactose, which is found in milk and other dairy products, is the most common food intolerance.
Food allergies cause roughly 30,000 emergency room visits and 100 to 200 deaths per year in the United States. The most common food allergies in adults are shellfish, peanuts, tree nuts, fish, and eggs, and the most common food allergies in children are milk, eggs, peanuts, and tree nuts.
Milk and soy allergies in children can often go undiagnosed for many months, causing much worry for parents and health risks for infants and children. Many infants with milk and soy allergies can show signs of colic, blood in the stool, mucous in the stool, reflux, rashes and other harmful medical conditions.
A food allergy is an adverse immune response to a food protein.
Food allergies and food intolerances affects nearly everyone at some point in their lives. People who have food allergies must identify and prevent them because, although usually mild and not severe, these reactions can cause devastating illness and, in rare instances, can be fatal.
Food allergy is thought to develop more easily in patients with the atopic syndrome, a very common combination of diseases: allergic rhinitis and conjunctivitis, eczema and asthma. Treatment consists of either immunotherapy (desensitization) or avoidance, in which the allergic person avoids all forms of contact with the food to which they are allergic. People diagnosed with a food allergy may carry an autoinjector of epinephrine such as an EpiPen or Twinject, wear some form of medical alert jewelry, or develop an emergency action plan, in accordance with their doctor.
The best method for diagnosing food allergy is to be assessed by an allergist. The allergist will review the patient's history and the symptoms or reactions that have been noted after food ingestion. If the allergist feels the symptoms or reactions are consistent with food allergy, he/she will perform allergy tests.
In response to the risk that certain foods pose to those with food allergies, countries have responded by instituting labeling laws that require food products to clearly inform consumers if their products contain major allergens or by-products of major allergens.
Food Allergy Awareness
Teal is the official color of the awareness ribbon worn for Food Allergy Awareness Week. In 2010, 37 U.S. states recognized Food Allergy Awareness Week, an initiative FAAN began in 1998, with official proclamations. This year's food allergy awareness week falls on May 10-16, 2015. In Canada May is Food Allergy Awareness Month.
Quick Facts: Food Allergy Symptoms &
Symptoms of food allergy include:
- Hives or eczema
- Drop in blood pressure
- Itching or swelling in your mouth
- Tightening of the throat and trouble breathing
- Vomiting, diarrhea, or abdominal cramps and pain
Statistics: Food Allergy
- About 50% of children with allergies to milk, egg, soy, peanuts, tree nuts and wheat will outgrow their allergy by the age of 6.
- In Central Europe, celery allergy is more common. In Japan, allergy to buckwheat flour, used for soba noodles, is more common.
- This potentially deadly disease affects 1 in every 13 children (under 18 years of age) in the U.S. That's roughly two in every classroom.
- Every 3 minutes, a food allergy reaction sends someone to the emergency department - that is more than 200,000 emergency department visits per year.
- In the United States, food allergy affects as many as 5% of infants less than three years of age and 3% to 4% of adults. There is a similar prevalence in Canada.
- Seventy-five percent of children who have allergies to milk protein are able to tolerate baked-in milk products, i.e., muffins, cookies, cake and hydrolyzed formulas.
- Eight foods account for 90 percent of all reactions: milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, soy, wheat, fish and shellfish. Even trace amounts of a food allergen can cause a reaction.
- According to a study released in 2013 by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, food allergies among children increased approximately 50% between 1997 and 2011.
- It is estimated that up to 12 million Americans have food allergies, and the prevalence is rising. 6 to 8 percent of children under the age of 3 have food allergies and nearly 4 percent of adults have them.