Ministry of Health Singapore. All Rights Reserved.
Food allergy is an abnormal response to a food triggered by our body's immune system. It affects children and adults.
It is caused by food allergens, which are food proteins that cause allergic reactions. Immunoglobulin E (IgE) is a type of protein in our immune system that works against a specific type of food. Allergic reactions to food can be classified as IgE-mediated or non-IgE mediated.IgE-mediated
IgE-mediatedCommon symptoms include:
Oral allergy syndrome
Exercise-induced food allergy
Non-IgE mediatedCommon symptoms include:
Unique food allergens
Edible bird's nest from swiftlets
Related: Eating Wrong Food Can Create Problems
Food intolerance does not involve the immune system and are usually not life threatening. Some of these reactions are caused by an inability to digest a particular food. Common food intolerance are for lactose and gluten. Some sensitive individuals also react to food additives and components.
If you have a food allergy, you will suffer a reaction even if you consume a small portion of the food you are allergic to. If your reaction is more of intolerance, you may be able to tolerate small amounts of the offending food without a reaction.
If you or a close family member suffers from a food reaction, you will know how distressing it can be especially when the trigger is not identified. An accurate diagnosis is very helpful in avoiding the discomfort and risks. It will also help the sufferer to eat a more balanced diet and enjoy a variety of other food without fear.
For a proper diagnosis of your food reaction, you must see a qualified medical doctor as it requires skill to pinpoint the cause of a food reaction and make a clear distinction between food allergy and food intolerance.
The specialist will conduct a comprehensive history (including the review of a detailed food diary), physical examination, and order several tests such as skin tests, blood tests such as the measurement of blood counts and total IgE, pulmonary function tests and others, as needed. After the tests, the specialist will offer the diagnosis and treatment plan, answer any questions and arrange follow-up sessions.
Some of the simple but effective strategies to cope with food reactions are as follows:
Since true allergies involve the immune system and can trigger severe reactions, it is best to avoid any food or ingredient that causes allergy. With accurate diagnosis and a strict exclusion diet, individuals with food allergies can cope pretty well with life. To prevent unnecessary food exclusion, careful food challenges can be conducted under the supervision of a qualified medical practitioner, to confirm food allergies.
As food allergies last a lifetime, it is important to replace the potential food allergen with a nutritionally equivalent substitute. This is particularly important in the diet of individuals who are allergic to many food.
Lactose is a sugar found in milk, and all healthy babies produce an enzyme known as lactase to help digest lactose. For the majority of Asians, our bodies naturally stop producing lactase as we grow up, a condition known as lactase non-persistence. People with lactase non-persistence can still drink milk without suffering symptoms of intolerance.
Individuals with lactose intolerance will suffer from flatulence, stomach cramps, bloating, discomfort and diarrhoea.
Here are some simple ways to help those who want to drink milk:
If you do avoid milk and milk products, then be careful to include other calcium-rich food such as fish with edible bones, soybean curd, green leafy vegetables and other calcium-fortified food.
Some people react to wheat or to just the protein in wheat called gluten. If you are sensitive to or intolerant of wheat, then avoid the grain. But this is easier said than done as wheat is incorporated into a variety of everyday food such as bread, biscuits, cakes, pastries and a variety of noodles including, yellow noodle. To prevent a reaction, try to identify which of the food that you eat regularly contain wheat and avoid these.
Gluten intolerance is even more difficult to manage as gluten is found in a variety of grains such as wheat, oats, rye and barley. Eliminating all these food may make meal planning difficult. Switching to rice-based products is helpful. Some supermarkets in Singapore do carry a range of gluten-free products that may make the diet less monotonous.
Other food insensitivities
Every individual is different. Some react to food additives and others to natural components in food such as caffeine. The best way to track the offending food down is to keep a detailed food and symptom diary. Careful observation can provide some clues. Try an elimination diet to check for symptom relief. Confirm the suspicion by challenging yourself with a standard portion. Resurgence of the symptoms will help you confirm the food you cannot tolerate.
Detailed history of patient's symptoms, suspected food allergens and a family history of food or other allergies are very important in the diagnosis.
Investigations for confirming responsible suspected foods include:
Further confirmation done through:
For severe reactions such as anaphylaxis:
The best way is to know and avoid foods that cause signs and symptoms.If you know you have a food allergy:
If you have a family history of food allergy, your child will have a greater chance of being allergic. Some ways to reduce the risk in them include:
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This article was last reviewed on
Friday, August 30, 2019
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Ministry of Health Singapore. All Rights Reserved.