It is believed that over 15 million Americans have some type of food allergy. A food allergy occurs when the body's immune system perceives a specific food protein as a threat, much like it would a virus or bacteria. When the person ingests the food, the immune system goes to work to try and eliminate or neutralize the invader. The body's response is known as an allergic reaction. Allergic reactions are caused by many popular foods, including peanuts, strawberries, foods that contain gluten, soy products, and various kinds of shellfish.
Symptoms associated with food allergies include red rashes on the skin, severe stomach upset, asthma attacks and severe anaphylaxis. Anaphylaxis is characterized by a narrowing of the bronchial airways to the point where a person's oxygen supply is drastically diminished and may not be able to breathe. Many people who have food allergies are required to carry an epi-pen to use if they are accidentally exposed to their allergen. It is also important to know ask before ordering certain foods at restaurants to ensure they don't contain a specific allergen.
Food Allergies Treatments
Food allergies trigger antibodies in the immune system, in particular, immunoglobulin E, called IgE for short. Blood testing for food allergies looks for the presence of IgE in the blood. Blood testing has an advantage over allergy skin tests in that it is not affected by antihistamines that the patient may be taking, and produces accurate findings for those with active rashes that may interfere with skin test results. However, tests for IgE only suggest the possibility of allergic reaction, not its frequency or severity. Both blood and skin allergy tests produce false positive results as much as 60% of the time, making allergy testing an interpretive tool in diagnosis, but not an absolute determination of food sensitivity.
There are no cures for allergies. While they may subside on their own, there’s no treatment that accelerates this effect. Food allergy avoidance therapy is largely an educational protocol designed to help those with allergies or their caregivers with the tools to accurately avoid foods and food components, once an allergic diagnosis becomes confirmed. Techniques for avoidance therapy include learning about how packages are labeled. For example, ingredients may be listed in one location, while a “may contain” warning may be elsewhere. Another example is label reading of non-food products such as medications, hair care products, soaps, or lotions to ensure these do not contain ingredients to which the patient is sensitive.
Sublingual Immunotherapy (SLIT)
A recent advance in treatment of allergies including food allergies is sublingual immunotherapy, or SLIT. Instead of injection, allergy treatments are administered as drops placed under the tongue. This presents several advantages over traditional allergy shots. There’s no injection, so the allergy patient or their caregiver may give the treatment. The risk of anaphylactic reaction from SLIT is many times smaller than that of injection therapy. Treatments are given daily at home, taking only a moment, instead through office visits with a 30-minute post-injection observation period. Similarly, patients who travel frequently or who live a substantial distance from their treating practitioner, SLIT therapy represents significant time savings and convenience.