If you find yourself in a conversation about allergies, as I often do, at least a quarter of people will say either they or a family member has food allergies. But the statistics show that in reality only around 2-4% of people actually have what a medical doctor would diagnose as a food allergy. Children have nearly double the rate of allergies as adults but that number decreases as they outgrow the condition.
So what is an allergy?
An allergic reaction is a response by the body’s immune system to a normally harmless substance that it mistakes as dangerous. It can be mild (e.g. some redness or itchiness) or severe enough to be life-threatening where it involves multiple systems (anaphylaxis). The reaction is fast, i.e. immediately or soon after exposure – within seconds, minutes but less than a few hours – and happens every time there is exposure.
The most common foods that cause reactions are called priority allergens, but you can have serious allergies to other things like insect stings, certain medications (like antibiotics from the penicillin family) and latex.
But why are so many people getting it wrong?
- Confusing food intolerance and allergy (e.g. lactose intolerance vs milk allergy). A food intolerance involves the digestive system and not the immune system. Symptoms from intolerance like bloating, cramps and flatulence can be uncomfortable and unpleasant but not fatal.
- Misinformation from alternative healthcare practitioners using tests that are not scientifically proven e.g. the Electrodermal Test or the IgG ‘allergy’ test.
- Self diagnosis. Something makes you feel funny, you try it again and that funny feeling is back. You’re allergic right? Not necessarily. We’ve all consulted Dr Google at some point, and the internet is a great resource. But the part the internet – including this website – should play is to help you formulate a list of good questions for your doctor, not to replace her.
So what should you do if you suspect an allergy?
Simple. Consult a medical doctor who will do the appropriate tests.
I understand that alternative medicine has its fans, and being an all-natural yoga mama I get it, but none of the alternative medicine strands have an answer to anaphylaxis.
Allergies can be life-threatening and sometimes every second counts. Would you call your chiropractor or your homeopath if your baby’s face swelled up to double its size and she was struggling to breath? Or would you call an ambulance and rush to the nearest hospital?
The immune system is complex and allergies are difficult to diagnose which is why there are doctors who specialise in the field of Allergy/Immunology. Pediatric allergists are even more specialised – they are pediatricians and allergists – so pretty effing knowledgeable and experienced!
Don’t wait for an emergency. Trust the right people with the right knowledge from the start.