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spread of food with high allergen content

Eating Around Food Allergies and Food Sensitivities

By Kristen Roloff RN, quality care coordinator at Network Health

A night out on the town or dinner in with friends is a great way to catch up through the universal human need that is food. While many of us may be most mindful of dietary choices we’ve made when eating food that we haven’t prepared ourselves, millions of people have greater concerns that can make a simple thing like eating potentially dangerous.

Food allergies and intolerances limit the types of food an affected person can consume. These sensitives range in intensity from causing an uncomfortable itch to a life-threatening allergic reaction.

Why do we have food allergies?

Food is how our body gets nutrients. When the human immune system recognizes certain proteins in food as threats, it attacks. This immune response engages the body’s “home security system,” activating immune response tactics in the form of a variety of symptoms.

What are the symptoms of food allergies?

There are several symptoms that may be triggered by an allergic reaction. The most common of which include the following.

  • Buzzing/tingling sensation in your mouth/throat
  • Hives – raised, red bumps that are itchy and uncomfortable
  • Facial swelling
  • Digestive discomfort, nausea or vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Stomach pain
  • Spring allergy symptoms like sneezing, red eyes, coughing or itchiness
  • Headache
  • Swollen throat

While these symptoms are uncomfortable and can manifest in serious ways, anaphylaxis is a severe allergic reaction that can occur. Anaphylaxis rapidly intensifies, beginning with a swollen tongue, difficulty breathing, tightness in one’s chest and more.

Anaphylaxis is a medical emergency. If you believe somebody is experiencing anaphylaxis, call 911 immediately.

People who are aware their allergies can trigger anaphylaxis will often carry an EpiPen® (epinephrine injector) which can be used to self-inject or have somebody inject them with life-saving epinephrine at the onset of anaphylaxis.

How can I help avoid food allergens?

Because food allergies can present life-threatening symptoms, you should always take care to avoid using allergens in food if somebody who is allergic will be eating it. This means asking your friends or guests about their food preferences and allergens.

Many people with food allergies are aware of the unpredictability of eating at another person’s house or eating at a restaurant and will ask about certain ingredients prior to ordering or making plans. Still, if you’re entertaining guests, it is a good idea to ask the group if anybody has any food allergies or dietary needs and consider those.

Remember, some food allergies are so severe that food prepared in the same kitchen – which can pick up proteins and grains of an allergen in the air – can cause a severe reaction.

Common food allergies include the following.

  • Milk and dairy
  • Eggs
  • Shellfish (like lobster, shrimp, crawfish, etc.)
  • Walnuts, pecans, almonds and other tree nuts
  • Peanuts and legumes
  • Soybeans
  • Wheat
  • Fish

What is food sensitivity?

Like a food allergy, a food sensitivity (often called a food intolerance) produces uncomfortable symptoms when certain foods are eaten. The difference is the severity. Those who suffer from food sensitivity are more likely to see gas, bloating, nausea, stomach cramping, constipation or diarrhea as a symptom.

Unlike allergies, which are related to an overreactive immune system, food sensitivities usually come from a lack of proper or a sufficient quantity of digestive enzymes.

For instance, those who are lactose intolerant have lower levels of the enzyme lactase, which breaks down the milk sugar lactose. This means you wind up not being able to digest all of the lactose from the milk or dairy, passing the undigested amount into the colon where it causes issues.

Food sensitivities often involve dairy, chocolate, gluten, yeast, tannins in wine, certain fruits like citrus, egg whites and others.

Although food sensitivities don’t typically have life-threatening symptoms it is an act of kindness and consideration to ask about sensitivities when preparing food or planning somewhere to dine with those who may be affected.

Are there treatments for food allergies or sensitivities?

While there isn’t currently a cure for food allergies, people who have them as younger children may outgrow them as they age. Like most allergies, those with non-life-threatening allergies may see benefit from immunotherapy, which works by increasing the exposure to your body in a controlled setting and allowing it to acclimate to the allergen over time.

Food intolerances are best treated by avoiding the food which causes the discomfort, planning ahead for symptom management and taking an enzyme supplement that can help your body achieve the proper amount of enzymes to digest the problematic food.

If you have any questions about food allergies, sensitivities, testing or therapy, contact your personal doctor. For any questions about your health plan can help you enjoy the bountiful food our beautiful home state has to offer, let us know.

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