What is food allergy
A food allergy is a reaction of the immune system to certain foods. The reaction can range from mild to severe and life threatening. Symptoms include hives, itching, swelling, difficulty breathing, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and in severe cases, anaphylaxis.
Common food allergens include shellfish, peanuts, tree nuts, milk, eggs, fish, wheat, and soy. However almost any food can cause allergic reactions. If you suspect a food allergy, it is important to consult with an allergist for proper diagnosis and management.
Who is an Allergist
An allergist is a medical professional specializing in the diagnosis, treatment, and management of allergies and related conditions. They are trained to identify the specific allergens and develop appropriate treatment plans. Identification of allergens can be done through skin prick tests or blood tests.
They can also provide guidance on avoiding allergens, prescribe medications to alleviate symptoms, and administer treatment (immunotherapy) for suitable patients.
Skin testing involves applying small amounts of potential allergens to the skin, usually on the forearm. In this test, a tiny drop of allergen extract is placed on the skin, and a small needle or lancet is used to prick the surface of the skin. If you are allergic to a specific allergen, you may develop a small, raised bump or redness at the test site within 15-20 minutes.
These tests are safe and well-tolerated, but they should be performed by trained medical professionals in a controlled setting, as there is a small risk of an allergic reaction during the testing process.
Skin testing helps identify specific allergens that trigger an individual’s allergic reactions, aiding in personalized treatment plans and avoidance strategies. It is important to consult with an allergist to determine if skin testing is appropriate for your situation and to ensure accurate interpretation of the results.
These tests are known as allergen specific IgE blood tests or allergy blood tests. Here are some key points about blood tests for allergies:
- IgE antibodies: Allergic reactions are typically mediated by a type of antibody called immunoglobulin E (IgE). These antibodies are produced by the immune system in response to specific allergens.
- Allergen-specific IgE blood test: This blood test measures the level of allergen-specific IgE antibodies in your blood. It can help identify the specific allergens that may be causing your allergic symptoms.
- Procedure: During the test, a sample of your blood will be drawn and sent to a laboratory. The lab will analyze the sample to measure the levels of IgE antibodies specific to various allergens.
- Benefits: Blood tests for allergies offer some advantages over skin tests. They can be performed even if you have certain skin conditions, are taking medications that interfere with skin testing, or have a history of severe allergic reactions that make skin testing risky.
- Limitations: Blood tests are less sensitive than skin tests and may have a higher rate of false positives or false negatives. They are best used in conjunction with a thorough medical history and physical examination to accurately diagnose allergies.
- Types of blood tests: Two common types of blood tests for allergies are ImmunoCAP and RAST. These tests measure the levels of allergen specific IgE antibodies and provide a numerical value indicating the degree of sensitivity to each allergen tested.
- Interpretation: The results of the blood test are typically reported as a numerical value or as a class or grade, indicating the likelihood of an allergic reaction to a specific allergen.
It is important to note that blood tests for allergies are not always necessary or appropriate for every individual. Your allergist will determine the most suitable diagnostic approach based on your specific situation.
The treatment for food allergies is strict avoidance of the allergenic food(s) that cause an allergic reaction.
Identifying allergens: Work with an allergist to identify the specific food allergens causing your allergic reactions through a combination of medical history, physical examination, and diagnostic tests.
Avoidance: Once allergens are identified, it is crucial to eliminate them from your diet completely. Read food labels carefully, ask about ingredients when eating out, and be cautious of cross-contamination in food preparation.
Emergency plan: Develop an emergency action plan with your allergist, including instructions on how to recognize and manage severe allergic reactions (anaphylaxis). This may involve carrying an epinephrine auto-injector (such as an EpiPen) and knowing how to use it.
Medications: Medications to manage allergic symptoms are antihistamines, they help to relieve itching and hives. However, it is important to note that medications cannot prevent or cure food allergies; they only treat symptoms.
Education and support: Educate yourself and those around you about food allergies, including recognizing symptoms, reading labels, and understanding cross-contamination risks.
Consult with an allergist or healthcare provider for personalized guidance and recommendations tailored to your specific needs.