Food allergies are on the rise, and there are many theories as to why.
“We are too clean,” says Carlos Prendes, M.D., family medicine physician with Alegent Creighton Clinic. “We do not let our immune system do its job. Anything that comes in that is not a part of our routine, our body will attack and protect us against.
“Food allergies were very rare in the 1900s (and Purell did not exist). As we have developed a more antiseptic society, we are also developing more allergies. There is something to be said for a bit of dirt in your life.”
There are eight foods that are responsible for 90 percent of food allergies. The “big eight” are milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, soy, wheat, fish, and shellfish.
“Many common food allergies for kids (milk, soy, wheat, and eggs) are not major allergens for adults. Adult food allergies tend to be lifelong and potentially severe. Many childhood allergies can be ‘grown out of,’ but adult allergies tend to stick,” says Dr. Prendes. “Most kids outgrow an allergy to milk and eggs by age six (this is different than being lactose intolerant).” However, he adds, this is not the case for peanuts.
“We are too clean. We do not let our immune system do its job.” – Carlos Prendes, M.D., family medicine physician with Alegent Creighton Clinic
Think you have a food allergy? “Symptoms usually begin within two hours after eating. If you develop symptoms shortly after eating a certain food, you may have a food allergy,” says Dr. Prendes. “Key symptoms of a food allergy include hives, a hoarse voice, and wheezing.” Other symptoms may include abdominal pain, diarrhea, difficulty swallowing, nausea, and stomach cramps.
“Any food allergies can be very serious,” says Dr. Prendes. “And mild reactions in the past do not always mean mild reactions in the future. If you are allergic to something, you cannot eat it; subsequent exposures can make the allergic reaction worse.”
There is a lot being done to make life with food allergies a little easier. The FDA requires by law that “the big eight” allergens are labeled on packages, even if the food does not contain any of “the big eight” but is produced in a factory that also produces any of these common allergens.
Schools and daycares are working to maintain peanut-free and milk-free zones or lunch tables, and to notify other parents that there is an allergy in the classroom.
Dr. Prendes recommends that the child takes responsibility for his or her allergy. “It is very important that the child is aware of their food allergy and cannot take a break from it. If you are at a birthday party and you are allergic to milk, you cannot have the ice cream. The sooner that they are aware of this allergy and that it is part of their life, the better off they will be.”
There are a lot of emerging ideas on how to reduce your risk of developing a food allergy. Some of the recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics—no cow’s milk until age 1 or peanuts until age 3—may be changing. “It is hard to tell parents to get their kids dirty more often,” says Dr. Prendes. “We have to figure out a balance to avoid developing these allergies and keeping people healthy.”