Ask the Expert: Food Allergies
In honor of Food Allergy Awareness Week, Alexis Waldbaum, Clinical Nutritionist, answers questions on food allergies.
An estimated 15 million Americans have food allergies. According to the Center for Disease Control in 2013, food allergies are on the rise, particularity in children, with an increase of about 50% in the past 15 years.
What are food allergies?
The main function of our immune system is to attack foreign bodies that may make us sick. A food allergy is a reaction by your body’s immune system brought on by eating a certain food. In an effort to protect yourself, your immune system may react to compounds in certain foods, mistaking them for a bacteria or virus. Foods that commonly cause allergic reactions are eggs, fish, nuts, milk, shellfish, soy, wheat and some fruits.
Each individual may have a different immune or inflammation response to these trigger foods and an allergic reaction can range from digestive problems, hives or even anaphylaxis or constricted airway. The severity of these reactions may also differ from person to person.
What methods are used in determining if someone has a food allergy?
- Skin prick test: a solution is exposed to gently picked or scratched skin. A raised white bump surrounded by redness will indicate an allergy to the suspect food through the measurement of the presence of certain antibodies.
- Blood test: known as the radioallergosorbent Test (RAST), a blood sample is taken to measure the presence of antibodies as well. Results are based on a numerical scoring system that correlates to certain food allergies.
- Oral food test: a very small measured dose of a suspect food is fed to an individual and signs and symptoms are monitored over a period of time. Note: this test should only be performed by an experienced allergist.
- Elimination diet: temporarily eliminate specific foods from your diet for 2-4 weeks and closely monitor symptoms. In some cases, the suspect foods are slowly reintroduced back into the diet, while also closely monitoring the body’s reaction.
What are some of the symptoms of a food allergy?
Common signs and symptoms of food allergies include, but are not limited to: itching in the mouth, gives, swelling of lips, face, tongue or throat, wheezing, abdominal pain or fainting. An anaphylaxis reaction to a certain food can cause tightened airways, shock, rapid pulse and even death.
Who is more often at risk?
Most commonly food allergies are seen in children. In fact, most food allergies affect children under 3 years old. Although anyone is capable of developing a food allergy, certain people are at a higher risk. These are people who have a family history of food allergies, have had a resolved food allergy in the past, have other non-food allergies or currently have asthma. The risk of having food allergies is higher for those individuals who suffer from other types of allergies including eczema or environmental allergies.
Is there any ongoing research to help treat food allergies?
With the prevalence of food allergies rising, there is a great deal of ongoing food allergy research being conducted throughout the world. One of the largest organizations conducting research is FARE: Food Allergy Research and Education based out of Virginia. Some current studies are exploring topics such as Chinese herbal medicine as treatment, childhood food allergies, the interaction between vitamin D and food allergies, and the challenges associated with managing multiple food allergies.
Some foods have been thought to be related to arthritis including dairy, coffee, wheat corn, beef, nightshade vegetables and nuts. However, these foods are not been proven to have a direct correlation to rheumatoid arthritis or other inflammatory diseases.
Alexis Walbaum, Clinical Nutritionist, received a Bachelor of Science in Exercise Science from The George Washington University and a Master of Science in Clinical Nutrition from New York University. Alexis has experience counseling a wide variety of individuals ranging from pediatrics to geriatrics. Her nutrition counseling interests include, but are not limited to, diabetes management, weight loss and maintenance, and vegetarian/alternative diets. Alexis is a current member of the American Dietetic Association. She sees both inpatients and outpatients and is an active member of the HSS Wellness Committee.