Spotting A Food Allergy
Our Writer, Health Colleen Shannon, explains how a dietician can help.
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