Do you have a Food Allergy?

 

An astonishing 45 % of the UK population think they are allergic to basic food substances such as wheat and dairy products but allergy specialists say that food allergy actually affects approximately 2 % of the population and that’s it’s likely that 45 % are actually suffering from something called food intolerance which is a completely different condition.
So how can we tell the difference between Food Allergy and Food Intolerance?
Good question…. many patients ask me this.
Firstly most food allergy starts in childhood. When someone has a food allergy, their body sees certain foods as a threat and mounts an immune response to attack that food, by producing ig E antibodies.

These cause an inflammatory response,  which can produce anything from a mild allergic reaction, such as tingling around the mouth, to an itchy rash. More extreme reactions can cause life threatening anaphylaxis,  facial swelling,  tongue swelling,  difficulty breathing, a drop in blood pressure, collapse and even death.
Common culprits include dairy wheat peanuts other nuts such as almonds hazlenuts , fish and shellfish to name but a few.

We don’t know exactly why people get allergy to food although we have noticed that it seems more common in people with other allergy conditions like hayfever eczema and asthma.
There is no cure and people are normally advised to avoid the food completely.
Mild allergy can be treated with over the counter antihistamines.
People with a history of severe allergy reactions should carry around a pen injector containing a drug called adrenaline, which could save their lives if they suffer an allergic reaction.

Food intolerance is something completely different.
This is where the body finds it difficult to digest certain foods.
The immune system isn’t involved and symptoms aren’t life threatening but can include:

  • Bloating
  • flatulence
  • diarrhoea
  • migraines
  • aches and pains in the Body

Triggers to food intolerance are thought to Include:

  • Eating too much of the same food
  • Eating in a hurry
  • Stressful lifestyles

There are often no accurate tests to detect intolerance, although we do have things like breath tests to look for lactose intolerance and blood tests for wheat allergy.
If you aren’t sure keep a 3 week food diary.Try to spot foods that are eaten around times of flares of digestive symptoms.
Chat to your GP before going on extreme elimination diets.
Drs are having to be a lot more open minded about holistic therapies these days.
Like many alternative therapies, there often isn’t a strong evidence base behind them but many patients see huge benefits.
For this reason, Drs  like myself will often say most are safe to try but if the changes don’t make a difference fairly quickly, then they probably never will, so stop them.

Finally, Hot off the press, British scientists have made a breakthrough in the battle against peanut allergy in children, one of the potential life threatening forms of allergy.
In the study children with known peanut allergy were exposed to very small amounts of peanut and this level was slowly increased over time, with the aim of training the immune system to stop attacking the peanuts.
The study showed that 84 % of the children were able to tolerate up to 5 peanuts by the end of the Study
We have a long way to go in the battle against allergy but this seems really exciting. Watch this space!