The key to identifying a food allergy is to be alert to what you eat and to your body’s immediate reaction to the food.
Food allergies are caused by an overreaction of the immune system to a particular food. When a person with a food allergy eats a particular type of food the immune system mistakenly identifies proteins in it as harmful substances and releases antibodies called immunoglobulin E (IgE). These antibodies attach to cells in the skin, lungs, and digestive system, which then release chemicals that cause allergic symptoms. This immune response leads to a wide range of symptoms, ranging from mild to severe, which can affect different organs in the body.
Symptoms of a Food Allergy
Food allergies can develop at any age, but they commonly begin in childhood and may persist throughout life. The symptoms of a food allergy can range from mild to severe and can occur within minutes to hours of eating the food. Some common symptoms of a food allergy include:
Swelling of the lips, tongue, or throat
Loss of consciousness
If you experience any of these symptoms after eating a food, it is important to seek medical attention immediately.
Identifying a Food Allergy
It can be tricky to find out if your symptoms are due to an allergic reaction to something you ate or due to an infection. The key to identifying a food allergy is to be alert to what you eat and to your body’s immediate reaction to the food. Here is how you can check if you have a food allergy:
- Recognize Symptoms: Firstly, you need to pay attention to any adverse reactions that occur after consuming certain foods. Common symptoms of food allergies include hives, itching, swelling, rash, digestive issues (nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea), respiratory problems (coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath), and in severe cases, anaphylaxis (a potentially life-threatening reaction).
Keep a Food Diary: Based on symptoms if you feel you may have a food allergy the second step is to maintain a detailed record of the foods you eat and any symptoms that occur afterwards. This can help you identify patterns and potential allergens.
Conduct an Elimination Diet: Work with a healthcare professional, such as an allergist or dietitian, to implement an elimination diet. This involves removing suspected allergens from your diet for a period, typically two to four weeks, and then reintroducing them one at a time while monitoring for any allergic reactions.
Consult with a Medical Professional: If you suspect a food allergy, it is essential to consult with a healthcare professional who specializes in allergies. They can perform tests, such as skin prick tests or blood tests, to identify specific allergens and confirm a diagnosis.
Allergy Testing: Depending on the individual case, your healthcare professional may recommend additional allergy testing, such as oral food challenges or specific IgE tests, to further identify and confirm food allergies.
Seek Medical Advice for Severe Reactions: If you experience severe allergic reactions, such as difficulty breathing, swelling of the throat, or a drop in blood pressure, it is critical to seek immediate medical attention.
Common Food Allergies
In India, as in any other country, there are several common food allergies that individuals may experience. Some of the most prevalent food allergies in India include:
The allergy is often caused by an intolerance to lactose or an allergic reaction to proteins found in milk.
Peanut Allergy: Peanuts are widely used in Indian cuisine and are a common allergen. Allergic reactions to peanuts can range from mild to severe and can even be life-threatening in some cases.
Tree Nut Allergy: Tree nuts such as almonds, cashews, walnuts, and pistachios are commonly used in Indian sweets, snacks, and curries. Allergic reactions to tree nuts can be severe and may require strict avoidance.
Wheat Allergy: Wheat is a staple grain in many Indian dishes, making wheat allergy a significant concern. People with wheat allergies may experience symptoms such as digestive issues, skin rashes, or respiratory problems.
Soy Allergy: Soybeans and soy products, including soy milk and tofu, are used in various Indian recipes and can cause allergic reactions in sensitive individuals.
Shellfish Allergy: Shellfish, including shrimp, prawns, crabs, and lobsters, are popular ingredients in coastal Indian cuisine. However, shellfish allergies are common and can cause severe reactions.
Egg Allergy: Eggs are widely used in Indian cooking, and egg allergies can range from mild to severe. Some individuals may be allergic to egg whites, while others may be allergic to the yolk.
Sesame Allergy: Sesame seeds and sesame oil are commonly used in Indian dishes, particularly in baked goods, sweets, and dressings. Allergic reactions to sesame can vary in severity.
It is important to note that food allergies can vary from person to person, and individuals may have allergies to other specific foods not mentioned here. If you suspect a food allergy, it is recommended to consult with a healthcare professional for accurate diagnosis and guidance.
Who Needs an EpiPen?
An EpiPen is an auto-injector device that is used in cases of severe allergic reactions, specifically anaphylaxis, which can occur because of a food allergy. An EpiPen contains epinephrine (also known as adrenaline), a medication that helps to reverse the symptoms of an allergic reaction and provides temporary relief.
If you or someone else is experiencing symptoms of a severe allergic reaction, such as difficulty breathing, swelling of the face or throat, rapid heartbeat, dizziness, or loss of consciousness, it may be an anaphylactic reaction and requires immediate medical attention. An EpiPen can provide temporary relief until help arrives.
Steps to use an EpiPen:
- Choose a fleshy area of the outer thigh and firmly hold the leg in place.
- Grasp the EpiPen firmly in your hand, with the orange tip pointing downward.
- With a quick, forceful motion, firmly push the orange tip against the outer thigh until you
- hear or feel a click. This activates the injection and delivers the epinephrine.
- Hold the EpiPen in place for a few seconds (usually around 10 seconds) to ensure the medication is fully administered.
Even though the epinephrine provides temporary relief, further medical evaluation and treatment are essential. It is important to note that using an EpiPen is not a substitute for medical care. Even if the symptoms improve after using the EpiPen, it is crucial to seek further medical attention and follow up with a healthcare professional.
Tips for managing food allergies.
- Read food labels carefully: Always read food labels carefully to check for ingredients to which you are allergic.
- Avoid foods that you are allergic to: If you are allergic to a food, it is important to avoid eating that food.
- Carry an epinephrine auto-injector: If you have a severe food allergy, it is important to carry an epinephrine auto-injector, such as an EpiPen, with you always. Epinephrine can be used to treat anaphylaxis, a life-threatening allergic reaction.
- Be prepared: If you are going to be eating out, be sure to let the restaurant know about your food allergies. They may be able to prepare your food without the ingredients to which you are allergic.
- Talk to your doctor: If you have a food allergy, talk to your doctor about how to manage your allergy and what to do in case of an allergic reaction.
CONSULTANT – GENERAL PHYSICIAN
MBBS, MD (GENERAL MEDICINE),