The body’s immune system keeps you healthy by fighting off infections and other dangers to good health. According to the College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, a food allergy reaction occurs when your immune system overreacts to a food or a substance in a food, identifying it as a danger and triggering a protective response. While allergies tend to run in families, it is impossible to predict whether a child will inherit a parent’s food allergy or whether siblings will have a similar condition. The Centers for Disease Control & Prevention reports that the prevalence of food allergy in children increased by 50 percent between 1997 and 2011. Researchers estimate that 32 million Americans have food allergies, including 5.6 million children under age 18. A study conducted by Alison Joanne Lee et. al specifies that shellfish (crustaceans and mollusks) allergy in Asia is the most common food allergy in older children and adults and the leading cause of food-induced anaphylaxis in South-East Asia, Hong Kong and Taiwan. Population surveys show prevalence rates in teenagers in the Philippines and Singapore of 5.12% and 5.23% respectively.
So, what is a Food Allergy? The Food Allergy Research and Education (FARE) defines Food Allergy as a medical condition in which exposure to a food triggers a harmful immune response. The immune response called an allergic reaction occurs because the immune system attacks proteins to the foods that are normally harmless. The proteins that trigger the reaction are called allergens.
Food allergy reactions are serious and can be life-threatening. Every three minutes, a food allergy reaction sends someone to the emergency room. For people who are allergic to certain types of food, one small mistake can mean an entire day of swollen tissues, vomiting, abdominal cramps, painful blisters, difficulty breathing, and in worse cases, coma and death. Serious Allergic Reactions Require Immediate Treatment. Once a serious allergic reaction (anaphylaxis) starts, the drug epinephrine is the only effective treatment. Epinephrine (also called adrenaline) should be injected within minutes of the onset of symptoms. More than one dose may be needed.
The most common foods that trigger food allergies in the Philippines are wheat, eggs, milk, shellfish and peanuts. Wheat, which can be found in a variety of foods including breads, cereals and pizza can cause dermatitis to swollen airways and anaphylaxis. Eggs are the leading cause of eczema (a type of skin allergy) attacks in children. The primary trigger is the protein in egg white, although allergies to yolk are uncommon. Crustaceans (crabs and shrimps) and mollusks (mussels, clams and similar seafood) can be just as harmful when consumed by an allergic individual.
Milk is also considered as one of the top causes of allergies in children, although many become desensitized by age three. While some peanut allergy symptoms run mild (runny nose and rashes), reactions can also be as frightening as airway obstruction and collapse may occur.
There's no perfect test used to confirm or rule out a food allergy. Your doctor will consider a number of factors before making a diagnosis. These factors include your symptoms, your family history of allergies, physical examination, skin test and blood test. We may be able to diagnose allergies but until now, there is no direct cure for food allergies. However, in the meantime, if you suspect you have a food allergy, avoid exposure to the food altogether until your doctor's appointment. If you do eat the food and have a mild reaction, over-the-counter antihistamines may help relieve symptoms. If you have a more severe reaction and any signs and symptoms of anaphylaxis, seek emergency help.
PNC-ZDS Marie Claire A. Gaas
1. Food Allergy
College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology: https://acaai.org/allergies/types/food-allergy
2. Facts and Statistics of Food Allergy
3. Food allergy in Asia: how does it compare?
Alison Joanne Lee, Meera Thalayasingam and Bee Wah Lee: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3563019/#:~:text=Population%20surveys%20show%20prevalence%20rates,5.23%25%20respectively%20%5B42%5D.
4. Most common food allergies in the Philippines
5. Diagnosis of Food Allergy and treatment