Spot­ting A Food Al­lergy

Our Writer, Health Colleen Shan­non, ex­plains how a di­eti­cian can help.

The People's Friend - - Health 19 -

HAV­ING a food al­lergy can make ev­ery­day life a has­sle, whether you are shop­ping, or­der­ing a meal in a res­tau­rant or din­ing at a friend’s home. This cau­tion is nec­es­sary, though, be­cause the con­se­quences of a food al­lergy can be se­vere, even fa­tal.

An al­lergy hap­pens when your im­mune sys­tem re­acts to a food. For­tu­nately, ac­cord­ing to the Food Stan­dards Agency, food al­ler­gies only af­fect be­tween 1 and 2% of adults.

An al­lergy is not the same thing as a food in­tol­er­ance, which is more com­mon but does not in­volve your im­mune sys­tem. The symp­toms can still make you feel mis­er­able but it is not life-threat­en­ing.

To learn more about food al­ler­gies, I asked Kirsten Crothers, Spe­cial­ist Gut Health Di­eti­cian, Di­rec­tor of the Food Treat­ment Clinic and a spokesper­son for the Bri­tish Di­etetic As­so­ci­a­tion.

She ex­plained that peo­ple can be al­ler­gic to any food, but the most com­mon cul­prits are eggs, wheat, nuts, soy, shell­fish and milk.

An al­ler­gic re­ac­tion to a food can in­clude a rash or skin ir­ri­ta­tion, stom­ach cramps, con­sti­pa­tion or vom­it­ing.

Ana­phy­laxis, which is a se­vere al­ler­gic re­ac­tion, is a med­i­cal emer­gency. If it hap­pens you must call 999 for an am­bu­lance.

The per­son may wheeze and strug­gle for breath. Their skin can get clammy and their heart­beat may speed up. They can feel con­fused, anx­ious or light-headed and they may lose con­scious­ness.

There are a lot of claims when it comes to food al­ler­gies, but the only way to be sure of the di­ag­no­sis and safe man­age­ment is to rely on your doc­tor and a reg­is­tered di­eti­cian.

If you sus­pect a food al­lergy the first step is to see your GP, who can or­gan­ise a skin prick test or a blood test. These tests can pick up some types of food al­lergy, but not oth­ers.

If the tests come back pos­i­tive, the next step is to ex­clude that food from your diet for a pe­riod of time. Then the food is rein­tro­duced to see if you have a re­ac­tion. This whole process must be done un­der pro­fes­sional su­per­vi­sion and if the re­ac­tion was ana­phy­lac­tic, the rein­tro­duc­tion must be done in hos­pi­tal. Never try it on your own.

If the test comes back neg­a­tive, you could still have a food al­lergy. Then a di­eti­cian might put you on an elim­i­na­tion diet to pin­point the cause.

It’s also im­por­tant for this process to be over­seen by a reg­is­tered di­eti­cian, be­cause lim­it­ing your diet se­verely can lead to mal­nu­tri­tion. The ti­tle of di­eti­cian is pro­tected by law and these pro­fes­sion­als must be reg­is­tered with the Health and Care Pro­fes­sions Coun­cil. You can look up your di­eti­cian’s reg­is­tra­tion on­line at www.hcpc-uk.co.uk

Once the di­ag­no­sis is con­firmed, your di­eti­cian can ex­plain food la­belling, ways to avoid un­seen traces of the food, eat­ing out, and how to cover all your nutri­tional needs.

You can learn more about food al­ler­gies on the Food Treat­ment Clinic web­site at www.the­foodtreat­ment­clinic.com or visit the BDA web­site at www.bda.uk.com for fact sheets about food al­ler­gies and test­ing. n

A di­eti­cian can ex­plain food la­belling

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