Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Understanding Food Allergies: Immediate vs. Delayed

The words “food allergy” often conjures up images of tongue swelling, hives, wheezing, or even the throat closing. These immediate symptoms can be life-threatening; in fact, those with severe food allergies typically carry epinephrine injector pens in case they accidentally eat foods they are allergic to. Highly allergenic foods include peanuts, shellfish, tree nuts, and dairy products.

While immediate reactions typically indicate a food sensitivity, other allergic reactions are not always so obvious. These are called “delayed onset” food allergies as they tend to appear 36-72 hours after eating. These reactions are usually not as severe, but can trigger joint pain, fatigue, brain fog, abdominal bloating, and mood changes. Delayed onset food allergies are also behind baffling long-term health issues like Fibromyalgia, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, and chronic pain. Multiple Sclerosis, Osteoporosis and other severe diseases are also thought to be triggered by delayed food sensitivities.

It’s estimated that 12 million Americans suffer from food allergies and the number is growing for children. A study published in the December 2009 issue of Pediatrics reports the incidence of food allergy in children rose by 18% during 1997-2007. Topping the list of most common allergy triggers are wheat, barley, rye (gluten), dairy products (casein), corn, and soy. However, any food can cause sensitivity if a person’s immune system becomes activated to fight the “foreign invader.”

How Is Food Allergy Testing Done?

Blood tests are done to measure the level of antibodies, or immunoglobulin in the blood. For those suffering from severe, immediate allergic reactions such as asthma or throat swelling, allergen-specific immunoglobulin IgE antibodies testing is performed for certain foods or environmental triggers like pet dander or pollen. To test for delayed onset sensitivities to certain foods, a more involved test would check IgG antibody levels to identify antigens that contribute to chronic diseases. Results from immunoglobulin testing help allergy sufferers and their health practitioners form an effective wellness plan.

Lifestyle Changes

Once the culprit is identified, all necessary precautions must be taken to avoid the allergen food. It is critical to read all ingredient labels before purchasing packaged foods at the market; when dining out, be certain that the foods you order are allergen-free as well as prepared separately from other foods. At dinner parties, bring your own food to ensure there is no cross contamination that can trigger an attack. Most importantly, if you suffer severe allergic reactions, make sure to have all your medications with you at all times.

Lifestyle changes don’t occur overnight. Diligence and careful planning ahead can help reduce allergy anxiety and keep flare ups at bay. Food allergy support groups can offer guidance, friendship and resources to help manage your lifestyle. Check out

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