A food allergy is caused when the body’s immune system mistakes an ingredient in food—usually a protein—as harmful and creates a defense system (special compounds called antibodies) to fight it. An allergic reaction occurs when the antibodies are battling an “invading” food protein. Here are a few facts you need to know about food allergies.
Food Allergy is an inherited predisposition. In other words, if your family has a history of allergies, you are much more likely than, say, the child of allergy-free parents to develop a food allergy.
- Exposure to the food
If you never touch or eat a peanut, you’ll never develop a peanut allergy. Even that first peanut butter biscuit may be harmless, but as you digest it, it triggers your immune system to produce IgE (Immunoglobulin E) antibodies that will be activated the next time you eat the food.
- Blame the Proteins
It’s not the food that triggers the reaction but rather proteins within the food that are not broken down through cooking or by stomach acid or digestive enzymes. These proteins are absorbed through the gastrointestinal lining into your bloodstream then move through your body.
- Allergy reaction may vary
A food reaction can vary from mild tingling in the mouth to full-blown anaphylaxis with collapse. The reaction can start almost instantly as the food touches your mouth, or may develop more slowly over the next hour or so.
- If you are allergic to one food, you are more likely to be allergic to others
For instance, if you have a history of allergic reactions to prawns, you’re likely to be allergic to crab, lobster, and crayfish as well. Doctors call this cross-reactivity. Furthermore, people who have a birch-pollen allergy may also react to hazelnuts, apples, carrots, and celery. And if you’re allergic to latex, you should watch out for bananas.
- Some people suffer from exercise-induced food allergy
In this form of allergy, if you eat a certain food and then exercise soon afterwards a reaction is triggered. You’ll find that as you work out and your body temperature rises, you begin to itch, become light-headed and soon have allergy symptoms such as hives or even anaphylaxis. The cure is simple: don’t eat for a couple of hours before exercising.
- Food allergies are incurable
There is currently no cure for food allergies or intolerances. The only way to prevent a reaction is to avoid the food you are sensitive to. Research is under way to see if desensitization strategies (as are used for hay fever) can also be applied to food allergies, but this is still at an early stage and should not be attempted without close medical supervision. Many children will grow out of their allergies and intolerances as their bodies and immune systems mature.