Food allergy is a common problem in all age groups, but is more frequent in infants and children. It can cause diarrhea, abdominal cramps, vomiting, and poor weight gain.
But with proper diagnoses and management based on identification and elimination of foods that are responsible for the symptoms, the allergic reaction should improve and eventually disappear.
Food allergy may lead to chronic ill health. Sometimes food allergy may be associated with frequent ear infections, headaches or pneumonias. It also may coexist with a variety of other allergic conditions such as allergic rhinitis, asthma and eczema. Hives and other rashes are often associated with food allergy and sometimes are localized in the area around the mouth. Some food allergies, especially to several fruits and nuts, are common in patients with latex sensitivity. Other food allergies are sometimes associated with allergies to ragweed or tree pollen. It’s important for parents to be aware of the symptoms and, if appropriate, get their child assessed and examined.
Symptoms should improve and eventually disappear with avoidance of those foods responsible. Treatments may take the form of a specific diet, which may need to be followed from several months to a few years. Life-long avoidance of some foods is indicated in a small number of patients.
Food allergy may also present as anaphylaxis, a severe, life-threatening reaction to certain foods, such as nuts, fish, seafood and eggs. This type of allergic reaction is likely to be permanent and, since it can be life threatening, it requires life-long avoidance of the responsible food. Most patients are diagnosed in childhood, but many adolescents and adults are diagnosed later in life.
Patients with anaphylaxis should:
- Always enquire about the ingredients used in restaurant dishes.
- Check manufacturers’ labels for possible inclusion of foods that may cause an anaphylactic reaction.
- Have epinephrine (Epi-pen) injections available, in case they are accidentally exposed to foods they are allergic to.
- Wear bracelets indicating their food allergy.
- Have all reactions resembling anaphylaxis evaluated in an emergency department immediately after administration of Epi-pen.
Diagnosis and management of food allergies can be life-saving in cases of food related anaphylaxis. Treatment of food allergy can affect significantly the quality of life and course of several chronic diseases in a large number of children and adults.