Food is vital for life. It provides the energy that we require to carry on with our daily activities. From cereals, pulses and legumes to fruits and vegetables, all these food items form part of a nutritious balanced diet. However there are instances when certain foods can induce allergy reactions in some people. It is important to be knowledgeable of the kinds of foods that we may be allergic to in order to prevent allergic reactions from flaring up. Some may just be mild responses whereas some can be severe. Dr. Shanthi Gunawardana, Consultant Community Physician, Ministry of Health addressed the questions that commonly arise regarding food allergies in this week’s edition of the Health Capsule.
“Food allergy is the sensitivity to certain food items. Some people may be sensitive towards some foods while others may not show any specific responses to those food items. Allergic reactions are caused by a chemical known as histamine produced by a type of white blood cell known as basophils. Histamine is responsible for bringing about allergy reactions in the body,” mentioned Dr. Gunawardana.
She informed that fruits like pineapples, passion fruits and certain types of plantains and tomatoes and legumes such as green gram, lentils could induce allergies in some people. Some people may be allergic to vegetables and food preservatives used in certain food items. Allergies to peanuts and peanut products such as peanut butter is also prevalent.
Once a patient is exposed to an allergy, allergic reactions are displayed by the body due to histamine. “Itching, rashes, breathing difficulties and swelling are some allergy responses. Sometimes a cough, runny nose or even sore throat or even wheezing is an indication of allergy,” explained Dr. Gunawardana . She further explained that the severity of food allergies range from mild to moderate to severe. Certain foods bring about mild allergy reactions such as itching and a small rash as soon as it is consumed. Breathing difficulties and shocks are results of more severe forms of allergy. The allergy reaction and severity depends on the person and may vary from individual to individual.
It is important to identify and be aware of foods that the body cannot tolerate as well as the allergies that one is susceptible to, in order to prevent allergy complications. This is best accomplished during infancy and complementary feeding. “When complimentary feeding is commenced the infant should only be introduced to one food at a time. In this manner if an infant develops an allergy reaction, the causative food can be recognized immediately. A mixture of 2 or 3 foods should not be given at the same time. In these cases if an allergic reaction springs up, the causative food can not be identified easily if more than one food item is fed to the infant. Infants may show symptoms such as indigestion, runny nose and sneezing to particular foods indicating an allergy,” explicated Dr. Gunawardana.
More about allergies
‘Heaty’ and ‘cold’ food classifications are very common in the Sri Lankan society. According to Dr. Gunawardana, Vegetables such as snake gourd that have a huge water content are believed to be cold foods and are often said to cause colds. “Certain types of plantains cause runny nose and wheezing in some. Parents believe that it is not good to consume such foods at night as it may give children coughs and colds. The reality is that such symptoms are experienced due to allergic reactions. Some people may not experience these symptoms while others may show such symptoms to these foods,” she stated. The consumption of certain fish can also induce allergies in people.
It should be understood that one person being allergic to a certain type of food does not mean that other people would also be allergic to it. It depends on the individual’s body structure and also family history.
“Passion fruit is a fruit that people commonly show allergies to. There are severe cases of the allergy where even coming into contact with the juice of the fruit can lead to allergic reaction. Certain drugs and antibiotics also induce allergies in some people,” she indicated.
Dr. Gunawardana further pointed out that there are instances when people may develop symptoms of allergy later in life even though they do not have a family history of allergies. This occurs when a genetically vulnerable situation is created. “This could be due to environmental pollution, hair dyes and even some food,” she mentioned.
Diagnosis of the allergy is conducted through examination of patients and inquiries of the food that they had recently had. “Usually anti histamine drugs are prescribed as treatment. The patient is advised to drink a lot of water. Allergy investigations can also be done through skin tests,” added the doctor.
The recovery from an allergy attack depends on the severity of the allergy. “A mild reaction will only take 1-2 days to subside. Moderate to severe allergies may take about a week,” she stated. On a final note, Dr. Gunawardana added that it is important to have knowledge of one’s allergies and avoid the foods that cause them.