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Discovering and Treating Food Allergies

When it comes to allergies, most people think of external triggers like pollen, perfume, or smoke. But what about food? It’s a serious threat that, if ignored, could have fatal consequences.

A food allergy occurs when the immune system has an abnormal reaction to a specific type of protein.  The most common sources are: peanuts, milk, soybeans, eggs, fish, wheat, tree nuts, and shellfish. These foods and their byproducts are responsible for 90 percent of said allergy cases.

How do you know if you’re allergic to a certain food? “You need to talk to your doctor, your allergist, and really run some tests,” said Grace Derocha, registered dietitian, certified diabetes educator, and certified health coach. “Run some tests before you start eliminating anything from your diets, because it might be confusing for the body to know what we’re looking for.”

If you’re already showing signs of an allergic reaction, start taking notes. “Keeping a diary of your symptoms and what you’re consuming, when those symptoms are happening. [It] is going to be really helpful when you go in to see that allergist,” explained Susan Okonkowski, registered dietitian and health manager at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan.

On the latest episode of the A Healthier Michigan Podcast, hosted by Chuck Gaidica, he’s joined by Derocha and Okonkowski to discuss how food allergies are diagnosed in both children and adults.

All potential allergens should be examined by a medical professional. An allergist can use one or multiple tests to determine possible triggers. Common methods include a skin prick test and an oral food challenge.

“There’s also blood tests,” said Okonkowski. “They can detect a lot from a blood test … it just depends upon what allergen they’re looking for and what levels they’re finding. If the blood is like, ‘Oh, we kind of see something,’ then they’ll go and do further, invasive testing.”

Confirming a diagnosis can be difficult for young children, particularly infants. Because of this, new parents may struggle with introducing new foods. Since the child can’t clearly express themselves, it’s hard to gauge their reaction. “When you are introducing new foods to your baby … give it some time before introducing another new food,” explained Derocha.

It usually takes a child three to five days to show visible signs of an allergy, which typically includes eczema or a rash around the mouth. “You have to be careful, because there are some mixed foods out there, like sweet potatoes and corn,” added Okonkowski. “[It] is fine to give them once they’re a little bit older, and you know that they don’t have a reaction to either one of those foods.” Overall, make conscious choices and don’t try too much, too soon.

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Photo credit: YinYang

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