Philippine Society of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, Inc.

Have you been told that you have food allergy or do you believe that you have food allergy? Do you or someone you know, shun certain foods because you are “allergic”? Surveys show that nearly one third of all adults believe that they have food allergy. Food allergies are common but not as common as some parents believe. Food allergies are often misunderstood. The following seeks to shed light on such frequently asked questions as : What is food allergy?; How do you know if you have one? And if it is not a food allergy, what might it be? See if you have heard-or-believed any of the following myths about food allergy.

Myth: I’m “allergic” to any food that gives me problems.

Reality: Not all negative reaction to any food is a food allergy. There are several problems that can arise after eating specific foods the majority of which are unrelated to allergy. It does not necessarily mean you are allergic to food just because it gives you symptoms after eating it. Food allergy is a very specific reaction involving the immune system of the body and distinguishing food allergy from other food sensitivities is very important. True allergies to food are immunologic reactions involving the immunoglobulins (Ig) E which are proteins that assist in our body’s immune response. Other kinds of reactions to food that are not food allergies include food intolerance such as lactose or milk intolerance, food poisoning which occurs when contaminated food is ingested and toxic reactions. Food allergies are rare while food intolerances are more common. Food intolerances are reactions to foods or ingredients that do not involve body’s immune system.

Myth: Only certain food can cause my allergy.

Reality: It is true that only certain foods are most likely to cause food allergies. In adults, the most common foods that cause allergic reactions are shellfish such as shrimp, crabs and lobster, fish, eggs, nuts from trees ,and peanuts. Peanuts which may be the likely cause of life threatening allergic reactions known as anaphylaxis, are the most common cause of food allergy in foreign countries. In children, the pattern is somewhat different. The most common foods that cause allergic reactions are milk such as cow’s milk, eggs, fish, peanuts and fruits.

Myth: I won’t outgrow my food allergy.

Reality: Children are more susceptible than adults to food allergy. As they grow older, some children may tolerate foods that previously caused allergic reactions. Kids may outgrow their food allergy depending on what they are allergic to but they can actually outgrow many food allergies if they completely avoid them (elimination diet) for two to three years. More than 85% of the children outgrow allergies to milk but fewer outgrow allergies to peanuts, tree nuts or seafoods. However, allergies to fruits and vegetables may also develop later in life because of similarities in fruit and vegetable proteins with airborne allergens such as pollens. The airborne allergens cause the body to produce IgE and the IgE then reacts with the similar proteins in fruits and vegetables. Adults however usually do not lose their food allergy.

Myth: I think I’m allergic to food, I just won’t eat it so I don’t need to be seen by my doctor.

Reality: Food allergy must be properly diagnosed. Just thinking that you are allergic to a food does not mean you have an allergy. In suspected food allergy, the offending substance must be accurately identified. Avoiding a food may deprive you of food choices and important nutrients and can be dangerous if the allergen is actually different. Diagnosis of a food allergy is complex and involves 3 major components namely: 1. Consultation with an allergy specialist 2. Food diary and 3. Food allergy testing.

Myth: I’m allergic to a certain food, it is okay to sometime eat small amounts if that does not trigger a reaction.

Reality: This is a dangerous myth. Food allergy are serious and can be deadly. Each year, there are about 150 deaths from severe allergic reaction from foods. Avoiding the offending allergen in the diet is the primary treatment of food allergy. Once food to which a person is sensitive has been identified, the food must be removed from the diet completely. It does not mean that you won’t have a more serious reaction next time just because you didn’t have a reaction after eating a small amount of food you are allergic for one time. Eating small amounts of food from time to time may also decrease the chances of outgrowing food allergies in children. The best way to outgrow food allergy in children is to practice strict elimination diet. Avoiding the culprit food can also be successfully done by reading food labels of the processed food and asking about the ingredients of food when you go to a restaurant because certain foods might contain ingredients to which you are allergic.

Myth: I can have allergy shots to prevent or decrease food allergy.

Reality: Allergy shots, a form of treatment known as immunotherapy involves injecting small quantities of allergen (substance to which a person is allergic). The shots are given regularly for a long time with the aim of desensitizing the person or getting the person to tolerate the allergen without developing symptoms. This type of therapy is effective in controlling symptoms related to allergic rhinitis, allergic asthma and insect bite hypersensitivities. However, there is no scientific evidence yet that showed allergy  shots is effective to prevent any allergic food reaction.

Food allergy is certainly nothing to be taken lightly. Food allergies are real. People who have food allergies must identify and prevent them because although usually mild and not severe reaction, these reactions can cause devastating illness and in rare instances, can be fatal. It is also vitally important to leave the diagnosis of food allergy to a board certified ALLERGIST.