“Please make sure there are no nuts in that meal because I have an allergy.”
A request like this is often heard in restaurants, bakeries, coffee shops or at any place where food is
purchased. The occurrence of food allergies in the United States is increasing.
In our office we help those with food allergies with education of hidden sources of these foods, how to meal plan avoiding their allergens and how to eat out with allergies. We also work with food sensitivities. There is usually some confusion over the two.
- Food allergies can be life threatening and can cause an anaphylactic response (inability to breathe and in the most severe cases, can lead to death), hives or an intense digestive response. They usually occur immediately after ingesting the food up to 2 hours later.
- Food sensitivities impact quality of life by often causing digestive issues, fatigue, joint pain, skin issues or migraines- but they are not life threatening in the moment. Food sensitivities can show symptoms up to 3 days after eating the food and their severity depends on how much you had.
What causes food allergies?
The main cause of food allergies seems to be genetic. In fact, research has shown that with one
allergic parent, a child has a 40% risk of developing a food allergy. However, with two allergic parents,
the risk increases to a 60-80% chance. On the other hand, a child whose parents do not have food
allergies has only a 5% to 15% risk of development. Although this range is small, it does still exist.
Certain foods have a tendency to cause more reactions than others. With regard to children, foods that have the highest tendency to cause allergies include eggs, wheat, soy, peanuts and milk. Somewhat differently, adults tend to be allergic to some fruits, nuts, and seeds as well as to fish and shellfish. In addition, food allergies can be caused by recurring exposure to food. In some countries, where certain foods are repeatedly eaten, allergies to that food will be high. For example, in the United States, because the consumption of peanuts is very high, there are a large number of peanut allergies.
Is there a treatment or cure?
Food allergies are diagnosed by a physician who specializes in allergies. Recently there has been an increase in knowledge in areas of immunology, genetics and molecular biology. This means that there is some hope of discovering treatments for allergies in the future. That being said, as of now, there is no magical treatment or cure. The only real solution is careful avoidance of the allergen.
Moreover, you can never predict an allergic reaction.
An individual may have a mild reaction once and a very severe and even life threatening reaction the next time. With each reaction, the risk increases and that is why we must take the necessary precautions to avoid these situations. Of course there is no way to ensure that allergic reactions can be avoided all together and mistakes do happen. However, allergic individuals as well as non-allergic individuals must recognize the severity of this health issue.
Some tips to help keep the individuals with allergies safe and avoid reactions:
Institutions or facilities that serve food should:
- Clearly state when they include a common allergen in a menu item. For example, if a salad has
nuts as a garnish then it should be indicated.
- If a customer has an allergy, be extra careful when preparing his/her food and ensure it does not go near the allergen at all.
- Take extra precaution to avoid cross contamination when working with common allergenic foods.
Individuals with food allergies who eat out must:
- Notify whoever is serving of their allergy and make sure their food does not contain an allergen.
- Tell the server to mark down next to your order that you have an allergy.
- Don’t eat from another individual’s plate unless they specifically mentioned about the food
allergy when placing their order.
Our team of expert dietitians are here to help you with any food allergies or sensitivities you may have! Contact our office to schedule an appointment at 301-474-2499 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Contributions to this blog by Danica Garvin, Dietetic Intern