Food Allergy - Hypersensitivity

Food Allergy - Hypersensitivity

Food allergy, or hypersensitivity, is an abnormal response to a food that is triggered by the immune response. The most commonly affected organ systems and their symptoms include:

  • Skin: hives, rashes, eczema
  • Mouth: swelling of mouth, tongue
  • Digestive tract: nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal cramps
  • Respiratory tract: wheezing, asthma

In contrast, food intolerance is more common and the immune system is not responsible for the symptoms even though the symptoms resemble those of a food allergy. The problem lies with the body's ability to digest the food, usually due to a chemical deficiency.

For example, difficulty digesting milk (lactose intolerance) due to lactose deficiency. Lactase is the enzyme required to digest milk sugar (lactose), hence deficiency causes abdominal discomfort and diarrhea after taking milk. However, people with food intolerance often can still tolerate some amounts of the offending food without experiencing symptoms.

Reduce risk of allergies

To reduce the risk of your child developing food allergies, do not introduce solid foods till four months of age unless medically indicated, e.g.; if your baby has failure to thrive or has iron deficiency anemia. Some may even encourage introducing solids to baby at 6 months. It is prudent that a limited variety and quantity of the least allergenic foods are introduced first in the following progression.

  1. Rice-based cereal
  2. Pureed root vegetables (potatoes, pumpkin, carrots)
  3. Pureed fruits (apple, pear, banana)
  4. Other vegetables (spinach, broccoli)
  5. Meat (pork, beef, lamb)

Only one new food should be introduced at a time and wait a few days before introducing another food. This is to enable identification of the offending food should there be any adverse reactions.

If you suspect your child has a food allergy, the first step is to keep a diet and symptom diary - write down everything that your child eats and drinks, and note down any symptom to occur. Speak to physician to evaluate the suspected food allergy. This may require certain tests to be done to investigate and diagnose the allergy.

Is there a "cure" for food allergies ?

There is no "cure" for food allergies other than the strict avoidance of the offending food.

  • Careful meal planning is important to ensure nutritional adequacy. Consult a doctor or dietitian about how you can make substitutions for a varied and balanced diet.
  • Read food labels carefully for "hidden" food allergens.

For example, eggs are common ingredients in mayonnaise, salad dressings, cakes and ice-cream; similarly wheat flour is commonly added to certain foods (such as processed meat products, gravies, canned or dried soups, malted milk drinks) as "fillers". In addition, ingredients may be listed as other names, so you will need to familiarize yourself with names of ingredients. The table below lists some of the common variations of milk, egg and soy.

Milk Egg Soy
Casein / caseinate Albumin Hydrolyzed vegetable protein
Whey / whey solids Ovo - mucin / globulin Textured vegetable protein
Hydrolysed milk protein Vitellin Soy Lecithin
Lactate Livetin Soy Flour
Lacto - globulin / albumin Meringue Soy concentrate
Curds   Soy protein
Cream   Soy sauce
Butter solids / fat   Teriyaki sauce

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