The prevalence of food allergies in children has been rising for more than a decade, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Such allergies affect quality of life because they can interfere with sleep and a child’s ability to interact with others.
Food allergies can even be fatal, particularly among youngsters whose peers don’t understand their gravity. About a third of kids with food allergies report having been bullied over their condition, according to Food Allergy Research & Education, or FARE. For these reasons, a prudent and cautious approach is imperative.
An allergy is when the body becomes hypersensitive to contact with normally harmless substances, causing the immune system to overreact, says Dr. Thomas Murphy, an allergy-asthma subspecialist with Charleston ENT & Allergy.
Reactions range all the way from mildly itchy skin to full-blown anaphylaxis. That’s a potentially life-threatening response to allergens that involves multiple parts of the body, including vitally important airways.
A concerted effort to heighten awareness of food allergies has helped allergy sufferers. Many schools now prohibit foods with nuts, shellfish, and other common allergens, and celebrities such as Kourtney Kardashian, Lady Gaga, and Gwyneth Paltrow have made gluten-free diets trendy.
While this heightened awareness has been helpful, it has also given rise to a lot of myths. Here are a few that Dr. Murphy would like to dispel.
1. Food allergies are common and widespread.
Food allergies afflict about 4 percent of adults and between 4 percent and 6 percent of children, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Celiac disease, in particular, is present in about 0.7 percent of Americans. That’s significant, but it doesn’t justify the Grand View Research firm’s estimate that the market for gluten-free products will expand 9.1 percent from 2019 to 2025. A lot of people are going on gluten-free diets even though they’ve not been diagnosed with gluten sensitivity.
“People mistake an isolated gastro-intestinal problem or skin symptom for something that is food-related when it’s not,” Dr. Murphy says.
In the best interest of the patient, the allergist prefers people self-diagnosing erroneously because it can delay an accurate diagnosis and appropriate treatment.
2. Food allergies are not serious.
At the other extreme are people who underestimate the implications of legitimate food allergies.
“Every three minutes, a food allergy sends someone to the emergency room, so that is a big deal and needs to be taken seriously,” Dr. Murphy says.
Don’t ever taunt someone with allergens as a joke or dismiss a person who asks questions about ingredients. Doing so can be deadly.
3. Allergies are stagnant.
The overwhelming majority of food allergies are to eggs, fish, milk, peanuts, soy, tree nuts, and shellfish. People with known allergies can take precautions to avoid harm, but food allergies can manifest at any age and sometimes catch people by surprise.
“Newborns can come out of the womb with a sensitivity, and adults can suddenly get very sick from eating something they’ve enjoyed for years,” Dr. Murphy says.
The most common adult food allergens are fish, shellfish, and nuts. Other allergens are often outgrown as children age.
The bottom line is, don’t assume you’re not allergic to something just because you never reacted before, and don’t assume you’ll always be allergic to something because you were sensitive to it in the past, Dr. Murphy says.
4. All lactose intolerant people must do is not drink milk.
Mildly lactose intolerant people can sometimes eat yogurt, or even drink milk if it’s consumed with food. But for the severely allergic, avoiding milk alone is not enough. Most know about obvious dairy such as milk, butter, cheese, cream, or ice cream. But dairy also can be hidden in breakfast cereals, candy, deli meats, drink mixes, instant soups, salad dressings, margarine, and pancake mixes; as well as bread, cake, and other baked goods.
If you or your child has a food allergy and will be eating outside the home, make sure the server knows you have an issue and confirm that selections are safe before consuming anything.
Also, read ingredients before buying groceries. Take into account that for those who are extraordinarily sensitive, even eating allergen-free food can trigger a reaction if it is prepared on the same surface or using the same equipment as food containing allergens. Watch proximity, too, because merely smelling an allergen is enough to make some people ill.
Looking for knowledgeable, compassionate ear, nose and throat doctors to treat asthma, allergies, or any other ENT issue? Charleston ENT & Allergy has 11 locations serving Charleston, Dorchester, Colleton, and Berkeley counties. Request an appointment or a call from Charleston ENT & Allergy by calling 843-766-7103, or visit online at http://charlestonent.com/contact/Charleston-Ent/.