Food Allergy FAQs
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Food Allergies, Desensitization & OIT Therapy – What You Must Know
Whether you’re an adult with food allergies, or have a child of any age with food sensitivities, we’re here to help. People with severe life-threatening allergies practice avoidance and also use emergency intervention, such as an epinephrine auto-injector. Thankfully, there are food allergy treatment options to ease one’s mind and make life more enjoyable.
Why Dr. Chacko Specializes in Treating Food Allergies
Food allergies can be one of the scariest things for patients and families, and this can have a significant impact on their quality of life. For decades, our only recommendations were to avoid the allergen, as well as to have an epinephrine auto-injector on hand. However, newer data has changed the landscape and allowed us to be more proactive about treatment.
What Are the Most Common Allergy-Causing Foods?
An individual could be allergic to almost any food, but eight specific foods cause around 90% of all allergic reactions. These foods are milk, eggs, peanuts, fish, shellfish, wheat, tree nuts and soy. You can find these ingredients within many common products. Other foods that can cause allergic reactions include celery, cereals, vegetables and sesame seeds. It may only take trace elements of an allergic substance to cause a reaction.
Will Antihistamines and Other Medication Help With My Food Allergies?
Some allergies lead to skin hives or itching, and yes, antihistamines could play a part in treating a food allergy. Medication can reduce the impact of these symptoms, lessening the effects of the allergen. An allergist may recommend antihistamines after assessing your condition. However, antihistamines won’t help with allergies that lead to severe issues like anaphylaxis. In such cases, the epinephrine auto-injector is carried by patients as an emergency measure.
What Are the Main Symptoms of a Food Allergy?
Most symptoms of a food allergy occur immediately or within minutes of consumption. Common symptoms include skin redness and itching, swelling of the tongue, lips or throat, dizziness, shortness of breath, sneezing, nausea and stomach pains.
Sometimes an allergic individual may not feel the effects of an allergy for many hours, with stomach pains, constipation and/or vomiting often occurring.
Anaphylaxis is the more acute reaction that can potentially lead to severe breathing issues.
How Much of a Food Allergen Is Required To Cause an Allergic Reaction?
An allergic reaction could result from contact with even trace elements of an allergen. In some cases, the steam from cooking oils might lead to a reaction. Caution is required as some of the most common allergens – peanuts, fish, milk, eggs and shellfish – are included as ingredients in many products.
Research has found that just 0.49 milligrams of peanut protein resulted in an allergic reaction for 5% of patients. This weight is roughly the equivalent of a single grain of sugar.
Is It Possible To Outgrow an Egg Allergy?
Studies have shown that 4% of children typically outgrow their egg allergy by age 4. This level rises to 68% by age 16. Unfortunately, this data highlights the fact that many people will still experience allergic reactions into adulthood.
To determine if the allergy has been outgrown, an allergist can conduct an oral challenge test. It is important to only test a reaction to eating eggs under medical supervision.
What Is the Difference Between a Milk Allergy and Milk Intolerance?
A milk allergy is an immune system’s reaction to protein found in milk. The immune system mistakenly believes these proteins are a threat and releases antibodies to protect the body. The result is an allergic reaction.
Milk intolerance, or lactose intolerance, is an inability to digest sugars found in milk and other dairy products. While milk intolerance can cause discomfort, it isn’t potentially life-threatening like an allergic reaction.
Is Oral Allergy Syndrome Worse When Pollen Is High?
Oral allergy syndrome is most often experienced during times of high-pollen counts. Pollen seasons will vary depending on the region and people may be allergic to one type of pollen.
Tree pollen season begins at the start of the year. Grass pollen season then follows during spring and summer. Finally, ragweed pollination occurs during late summer and fall.
What Are the Common Peanut Allergy Symptoms?
While symptoms of a peanut allergy will vary, the first signs are often skin rashes, redness and hives. It is also likely that an individual will feel tingling and swelling around the lips, tongue and throat.
Less likely, though still possible, are breathing issues like chest tightness and wheezing. In severe cases, an individual may experience nausea and severe breathing difficulties. These symptoms are often the sign of anaphylaxis and require immediate medical attention.
What Are Some Examples of Food Products Containing Shellfish?
When Shellfish is included in products, it may not be immediately obvious. Shellfish is often included in cooking sauces, oils and stock, adding flavor to various products. Spices and seasonings may include traces of shrimp, scallop, oyster, lobster and other seafood.
While it’s possible to identify most products by checking the ingredient list, it can be challenging at a restaurant. A waiter should be able to assist individuals who have shellfish allergies by providing details of ingredients.
What Can a Parent Do To Protect Their Child From Tree Nuts?
Parents can replace foods that contain tree nuts, with foods containing sunflower or pumpkin seeds. Advising the school of an issue also is a great way to reduce the potential for allergic reactions. And ensuring an epinephrine auto-injector is available is important for emergencies.
In some cases, oral immunotherapy treatment will be the best approach for overcoming a tree nut allergy. Your allergist can advise on the possibility of this treatment.
How Can I Be Certain Which Food Is Causing an Allergic Reaction?
It is not always immediately obvious which food or foods cause an allergic reaction. For example, you may be allergic to hazelnuts, yet not experience a reaction to other tree nuts.
An allergist can discover problematic food allergens using food allergy testing. The three prominent tests are as follows.
- Skin prick test – Reliable and rapid test for many types of allergens.
- Blood test – Analysis of antibodies in your blood.
- Oral challenge test – Feeding test involving slowly increasing amounts of an allergen.
Once a food allergy has been identified it can be treated with oral immunotherapy (OIT). The OIT desensitization technique introduces the allergen to the patient in very small doses.
What Is Oral Immunotherapy, or OIT?
Oral immunotherapy desensitizes children and adults to their food allergens. By consuming the allergen regularly, a patient’s immune system adapts to the allergen that formerly would have caused a life-threatening anaphylactic reaction.
How Long Does Oral Immunotherapy Take?
A build-up day takes place with your allergist and can take around 4–7 hours. Subsequently, doses can be taken at home with occasional visits to your allergist. The entire process can take around six months. The amount of time can vary due to your reactions to increases in dosage.
Are There Any Negative Side Effects to Oral Immunotherapy?
Consuming small amounts of an allergen can potentially lead to minor allergic reactions. In rare cases, there is also the risk of anaphylaxis. The majority of people will complete the treatment without side effects. An allergist will only proceed with oral immunotherapy for you or your child after a thorough assessment.
How Do I Know If Food Desensitization Is the Right Choice for My Child?
The decision to begin desensitization is based on a variety of factors. These factors include the following:
- Risk of reaction to accidental ingestion
- Difficulty in avoiding the allergen
- Quality of life issues such as anxiety, the ability to participate fully in school, sports, family & social activities, etc.
As an example, one of Dr. Chacko’s patients had a life-threatening reaction to milk and had to have a helicopter take her to CHOA (Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta) for this severe reaction. However, now she is tolerating over 1 glass of milk daily. This has made a huge change in the quality of life for her and the whole family. We have desensitized over 250 patients, and Dr. Chacko’s patient success stories are remarkable.
What Is the Goal of Oral Immunotherapy Treatment?
The primary goal of this treatment is simple: To prevent any life-threatening accidents. Generally, this is the concern for most patients with peanut or tree nut allergies. Almost daily we have patients who are severely allergic to peanuts tolerating 1–2 peanuts in our office. In some patients we are able to introduce full servings of the previously allergy-causing foods, such as milk.
Is It Better to Avoid Foods Instead of Pursuing Oral Immunotherapy?
Food avoidance is an important step in preventing allergic reactions. If you identify a food that causes negative consequences, removing it from your diet and making an appointment with Dr. Chacko is crucial. But long-term food avoidance is harder than it appears. There is still the risk of consuming the allergen hidden within a food product, and this fact can lower quality of life. Oral immunotherapy offers the chance to consume an allergy-causing food without fear of a reaction.
Do All Allergists Offer OIT Treatment?
No. Only a handful of allergists in the country offer this treatment. Dr. Chacko’s experience in desensitizing adult and child patients brings oral immunotherapy to the Atlanta area, and hope for patients and their families.
Help Treating Your Food Allergies Is Available
To find out if food allergies are an issue for you, or to learn more about oral immunotherapy, please request an appointment at one of our Atlanta-area locations online or call (678) 668-4688.