Food allergy – what is it?
Are you allergic to something? Peanuts, shrimp, maybe cow milk? These are products which often cause an allergic reaction. Eggs, soy or wheat are also on the black list. You may have not known that even around 3 million children, in the U.S. only, are allergic to something! If food allergy is so common, you need to know more about it – especially if it concerns you. Our article will help you understand what exactly food allergy is.
How does it work?
Food allergy is caused by our immune system’s mistakes. Normally, its task is to protect our body from unwanted germs and viruses which cause many different diseases. But, sometimes the immune system can make mistakes and treat something in our food – which is totally harmless – as something dangerous.
In short, allergy is when your body reacts negatively to safe things – not only food, it may happen also in the case of some medicines, pollens of trees, weeds or grass, some chemicals present in cosmetics. Allergies can disappear after some time, but very often these most severe will stay with you throughout your whole life.
How can my body react?
When you are allergic to a certain product and eat it, your antibodies start their action. They make mast cells (cells which work in your immune system) release chemicals, like histamine, to the blood. And this histamine is responsible for the troublesome reactions which appear either right after eating the product, or a few hours later. The list of the reactions is quite long:
- Runny nose, wheezing
- Itchy skin
- Cough, hoarse voice, tightness in the throat
- Nausea, vomiting
- Stomach pain, diarrhea
- Tingling in the tongue or lips
- Anaphylaxis (explanation below)
Anaphylaxis is the most severe allergic reaction which may happen. It includes a few problems occurring at once – breathing problems, skin and digestive system reaction, problems with your heart and vessels. Apart from this, your blood pressure can decrease, your tongue can swell and breathing tubes may become narrow. It is a very dangerous condition and in this case you would have to get a special medicine very quickly.
Am I allergic to something?
First of all, allergies are usually hereditary – if your parents are allergic to something you will probably have a similar allergy. But, sometimes you are not born with this problem, you may develop it in some time, because of the conditions in which you live or other factors.
Generally, it is easy to find out whether you have a food allergy when you observe some of the symptoms after eating a certain thing. But when you have eaten a product with a long list of ingredients, you have no idea which of them has caused the reaction. Visiting a doctor will help you solve the riddle.
Start with informing your parents about the problem and visit a doctor who is the specialist in the area of allergies. He or she will ask you many important questions like what your reaction was or how long after eating something you feel worse. Then, you will probably have a skin or a blood test to check which product causes your allergic reaction. Do not try testing this at home because it can be dangerous! You never know how your body will react.
Ok, I have a food allergy, what now?
It cannot be treated, unfortunately. The only thing you can do is avoiding things which cause problematic symptoms. Remember that even if you are allergic only to nuts, you cannot eat things which contain them as well. When you are very sensitive, you have to avoid also these products which were produced in the place where nuts are produced too. That is why you must read labels carefully before eating something.
Be prepared for any reaction
Do not worry, your doctor will exactly tell you what to do in case you accidentally eat a forbidden product. If you are likely to have the anaphylaxis reaction, you will receive an epinephrine injection – placed in a convenient container which looks like a pen so that you could carry it always with you (you can also give it to someone adult at your school to keep it for you). If the serious reaction happens, you will receive the shot of epinephrine immediately and then go to the hospital to check if everything is ok.
Do not feel worse because of some limitation your allergy brings. You can live a normal life! You love chocolate, but it is forbidden? No problem, there are so many children with the same problem as yours, that there are already lots of substitute products for various types of sweets and other things you may like, but cannot eat because of the problematic ingredient. And remember, there is still a chance that your allergy will disappear in some time!