Definition and Overview
Encountering food allergens can happen everywhere—right at one’s own home, at the school cafeteria, at a work luncheon, or at a restaurant. Understanding the role of allergy nutrition in preventing symptoms, serious complications, and even fatalities is the key to saving lives in these cases.
Food allergies are triggered by an individual’s immune system, which mistakes certain substances as a harmful invader to the body. The body’s automatic immune response is to attack the ingested food, which results in an autoimmune response that causes a wide variety of symptoms. It is worth nothing that food allergy is different from food intolerance. The latter is not caused by the immune system and typically triggers gastrointestinal responses. There are, however, some similarities in their symptoms. For example, an individual can be allergic to proteins found in milk, which can trigger an autoimmune response, but a person with lactose intolerance, or an inability to process certain proteins in milk, will experience gastrointestinal symptoms.
When exposed to food allergens, the affected individual can experience a variety of symptoms, including the following:
- Itchiness in the mouth, throat, ears, or nose
- Difficulty breathing
- Trouble swallowing (as the throat becomes restricted)
- Abdominal pain
If left unchecked or untreated, food allergies can cause serious complications in various organ systems and even cause the death of the patient. Allergens in food can travel in the bloodstream, causing a drop in blood pressure. When organ systems are exposed to these allergens—for example, the respiratory system—the patient can experience bronchospasm, which involves a constriction, similar to wheezing, of the lungs. Reaction times to food allergens vary from one patient to another; some patients instantly exhibit signs and symptoms upon ingesting the allergen, while some experience the symptoms when the allergen enters their digestive tract and bloodstream.
Avoiding the following food can prevent nutrition allergies:
- Walnuts and other nuts from trees
- Peanuts (widely known as a food allergen that causes anaphylaxis, which involves a sudden blood pressure drop that can be potentially life-threatening)
Foods that are high in histamine, such as some types of cheeses, wine, and fish, can also cause autoimmune reactions in susceptible individuals.
Antihistamines are commonly used to treat symptoms of a mild to moderate allergic reaction while adrenaline is used in emergency situations involving severe allergic reactions as it can narrow the blood vessels to reverse the effects of a sudden drop in blood pressure. Adrenaline can also open up restricted airways to help the patient breath easier.
However, medication is not the complete solution and should only be used in emergency cases. Effective allergy nutrition management and taking active steps toward making lifestyle changes are the best ways to deal with food allergies and intolerance.
Who Should Undergo and Expected Results
People with food allergies and intolerance should consult a dietitian or an allergy nutritionist as soon as the symptoms are observed. Those with suspected peanut allergies should come in for a consultation right away to prevent any contact with allergens that can cause serious complications and fatalities in the future.
Although the symptoms of food allergies and intolerance can be managed, the condition cannot be cured. However, some children do outgrow their allergies as they reach puberty or adulthood. A revised diet and lifestyle change should be enough to manage the symptoms.
How is the Procedure Performed?
The main concern of allergy nutrition management is to ensure that the patient still receives the adequate amount of nutrients, vitamins, and minerals while removing potentially life-threatening allergens in their diet. A dietitian or an allergy nutritionist can help the patient or the patient’s parents to create a diet plan and implement several lifestyle changes at home.
A professional dietician can also prescribe an elimination diet during the initial consultation to determine the presence of food allergy and intolerance. Finding the chemicals that can cause the symptoms is very important, and the dietitian can use this information in prescribing the best kind of replacement foods that will not compromise the patient’s health and nutrition.
Possible Risks and Complications
Altering the diet plan of an individual with food allergies without the supervision of a qualified medical professional can result in malnutrition.
- National Health Services: “Food Allergies.”
- Dietitians Association of Australia: “Food Intolerance and Sensitivity.”
- British Nutrition Foundation
- Nutrition Australia: “Food Allergy.”