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Food allergies in children and adults

by Ortwin Brauer
Lebensmittelallergien bei Babys und Kleinkindern

food allergies in babies

food allergies

A food allergy is an overreaction of the immune system to a food that is normally harmless. Such a reaction can be immediate or delayed.

About 6-8% of children suffer from food allergies. Peanut allergies alone affect 1-2% of young children. In most cases, the allergy disappears by the age of 5-7 years. For some allergens, up to 80% of children are so lucky.

How do you recognize the symptoms? Which foods are most commonly affected?

The symptoms of food allergy

Food allergies develop differently in children than in adults. Some symptoms require urgent treatment.

Symptoms of food allergy in children are varied, as they can be:

  • Rhinitis ;
  • Asthma
  • Localized or generalized urticaria, sometimes associated with edema;
  • Flare-ups of atopic eczema. Atopic eczema is very common in food allergies. Between birth and the first year of life, 80% of food-allergic children show manifestations of this type. After the age of 15, only 4% of them are affected;

Digestive disorders, which are not very important and should be considered an allergic reaction, especially if one parent is allergic (heredity):

  • Abdominal pain associated with colic and frequent crying,
  • Gastroesophageal reflux in infants.
  • Constipation,
  • Vomiting,
  • Diarrhea, especially with weight loss.

Symptoms of food allergies in adults

In adults, allergy may manifest as follows:

  • oral syndrome (itching of the palate and throat, swelling of the lips), which often occurs after eating allergenic raw fruit;
  • hives;
  • an asthma attack;
  • Allergic rhinitis;
  • Digestive symptoms (abdominal pain or diarrhea).

Food allergies: sometimes symptoms that require urgent treatment.

In some cases of severe food allergy, severe symptoms may include:

  • Edema of the throat or larynx (also called “angioedema”);
  • a severe asthma attack
  • anaphylactic shock; this is much more common in adults. It occurs after ingestion of allergenic foods (usually containing wheat flour and/or spices), followed by exercise (jogging, endurance, dancing, etc.), with the exertion revealing the food allergy.

Which products can trigger a food allergy?

Based on the latest scientific findings, the list of identified allergens is regularly revised. In addition to food, it also includes food derivatives and additives. The presence of these substances in marketed products is indicated on their labels. Therefore, it is important to read them carefully if you have a food allergy.

There are also cross-allergies (e.g., food allergy and respiratory allergy) that can be triggered by two different substances containing the same allergenic elements. For example, a person may be allergic to both birch pollen and apples (both contain proteins known as “PR 10”).

food allergies in babies treatment:

How are food allergies treated?
Allergists will help you develop a treatment plan if your child has a food allergy. Treatment usually involves avoiding the allergen and all foods that contain it.

It is necessary to read food labels in order to avoid the allergen. Producers of foods sold in the United States must indicate whether the food contains any of the eight most common allergens: milk, egg, fish, shellfish, tree nuts, peanuts, wheat or soy.

There is no cure for food allergies. However, there are medications that can treat both minor and severe symptoms. Antihistamines can be used to treat symptoms such as hives, runny nose or abdominal pain due to an allergic reaction.

In the case of a severe food allergy, the doctor will want your child to carry an epinephrine auto-injector in case of an emergency.

An epinephrine auto-injector is a prescription medication that comes in a small, easy-to-carry container. It is simple to use. Your doctor will show you how to use it. A child who is old enough can learn to give the injection to themselves. If they carry the epinephrine, it should be nearby, not left in a locker or in the nurse’s office.

No matter where your child is, caregivers should always know where the epinephrine is, have easy access to it and know how to give the injection. Your child’s school staff should know about the allergy and have a plan of action in place. You should have access to your child’s medication at all times. Also consider having your child wear a medical alert bracelet.

The main signs and symptoms of anaphylaxis that require the administration of epinephrine are

  • hoarseness
  • feeling of a tight throat
  • swelling of the mouth
  • difficulty breathing
  • any symptoms that affect two or more body systems (skin, heart, lungs, etc.), such as hives and stomach pain
  • Any other combination of two or more symptoms affecting different parts of the body

Every second counts in an allergic reaction. If your child begins to have severe allergic symptoms, give the epinephrine auto-injector immediately. Also give it immediately if the symptoms involve two different parts of the body, such as hives with vomiting. Then call 911 and take your child to the emergency room. Your child needs to be under medical supervision because even if the worst seems to be over, a second wave of severe symptoms can occur.

It is a good idea to carry an over-the-counter antihistamine for your child, as it can help treat mild allergy symptoms. For life-threatening reactions, use antihistamines after the epinephrine injection, not in place of it.

food allergy treatment for adults

The only way to prevent an allergic reaction is to avoid the foods that cause the signs and symptoms. But despite your best efforts, you may come into contact with a food that causes a reaction.

For a minor allergic reaction, over-the-counter or prescription antihistamines can help reduce symptoms. Simply taking these medications after exposure to an allergenic food will relieve the itching or hives. However, antihistamines cannot treat a severe allergic reaction.

In fact, a severe allergic reaction may require an epinephrine injection and a visit to the emergency room. Many people with allergies carry an epinephrine auto-injector (Adrenaclick, EpiPen). This device is a syringe combined with a concealed needle that injects a single dose of medication when pressed against your thigh.

If your doctor has prescribed an epinephrine auto-injector:

Make sure you know how to use the auto-injector. Also make sure the people closest to you know how to administer the medication – if they are with you in an anaphylactic emergency, they could save your life.
Keep it with you at all times. It may be a good idea to keep an extra auto-injector in your car or on your desk at work.
Always be sure to replace epinephrine before its expiration date or it may not work properly.
Experimental Treatments
Although research is underway to find better treatments to reduce the symptoms of food allergies and prevent allergy attacks, there is no proven treatment that can prevent or completely relieve symptoms.

Treatments being studied are:

Oral immunotherapy. Scientists have studied the use of oral immunotherapy as a treatment for food allergy. The treatment involves swallowing small doses of the food you are allergic to or placing them under your tongue (sublingual). The dose of the food causing the allergy is gradually increased.

So far, the results have been promising, even for people with peanut, egg and milk allergies.

Early exposure. Previously, it was generally recommended that people avoid allergenic foods to reduce the likelihood of developing allergies. But in a recent study, high-risk people – such as those with atopic dermatitis or egg allergy or both – were selected to ingest or avoid peanut products from 4 to 11 months of age until age 5.

The researchers found that high-risk people who regularly consumed peanut protein, such as peanut butter or peanut-flavored snacks, were 70% to 86% less likely to develop a peanut allergy.

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