In recent years the number of people claiming to have food allergies has drastically increased, so much that researchers felt curious enough to investigate what the causes of this phenomenon could be. Living with a food allergy is no easy feat, so for people to misdiagnose themselves in such a way there must be a good reason. What studies found was surprising, that many people who have self-diagnosed themselves with food allergies are in fact not allergic at all.
The Jaffe Food Allergy Institute at the Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York recently conducted a study on food allergies; they found that up to 20% of people claim to have food allergies, when in actuality only about 3-4% really do. The reason for this may be due to people having milder reactions to food as a result of a food intolerance. People’s reactions to food also often change with age, and sometimes symptoms are attributed to foods when in fact they were caused by something else.
However, this is not to say that food allergies cannot be very serious in some cases. Household surveys have shown an increase in allergies to peanuts and tree nuts in children. A food allergy is classified as an abnormal response to food triggered by the immune system. Symptoms begin just minutes after coming in contact with the food, and can include nausea, vomiting and diarrhea, skin ailments like itching or hives, and respiratory problems. In some cases anaphylaxis can occur, where the throat can quickly swell causing difficulty breathing, dizziness, loss of consciousness and even death.
A food intolerance can affect different parts of the body, where the digestive system is unable to properly break down certain foods. Foods that can cause an intolerance are sugars such as lactose and fructose. In some cases foods like cheese, chocolate and wine can cause migraine headaches. Though these symptoms can affect people with an intolerance, people can still eat such foods without any serious consequences. A food intolerance can also become more pronounced with age, while food allergies can often be outgrown by adulthood.
In diagnosing a food allergy you should definitely see a specialist first. 90% of food allergies are caused by eggs, fish, milk, peanuts, shellfish, soy, tree nuts and wheat. If you were diagnosed with a food allergy years ago, there’s a good chance your allergy may have subsided over time. When in doubt, a placebo-controlled food challenge can be used to confirm an allergy. The patient would be served increasing doses of the potential allergen as well as a placebo, with the test conducted double-blind to avoid any potential bias. The test would of course be administered safely in a doctor’s office, with epinephrin at hand.
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