A food allergy is a common immune system response to a certain food in Singapore. In its response, the body produces an antibody called Immunoglobulin E (lgE) to protect the body. Sometimes, consuming even small quantities of this particular food can trigger anywhere from a mild to life-threatening response.
Food allergies are quite common, affecting millions worldwide. Statistics suggest that about 6% to 8% of children aged below 3 have food allergy, while 3% of the adult population are affected. Closer to home, not more than 5% of children aged 12 and below are estimated to have food allergy, and the proportion decreased to about 1% in adults. Children are known to outgrow food allergies to some dairy products but it is less likely the case with a nut or shellfish allergy.
Food allergies and food intolerance are often confused. Food intolerance is an inconvenience most of the time, whereas food allergies can be fatal.
There are three main types of food allergies:
There is little evidence to conclude what causes food allergies.
While those with a family history of food allergy are more likely to have one too, the exact genes responsible are not known.
Studies have also shown that introducing solids into a baby’s diet beyond 4 to 6 months of age, tends to increase the chances of developing food allergy but it is unclear how much this applies to an Asian population.
Every person reacts differently to their food allergies, and reactions may be inconsistent from episode to episode. Here are some of the symptoms that may be experienced:
Food allergies in itself present with symptoms that can cause a lot of discomfort and some degree of pain. But it is the complication called Anaphylaxis that causes the most concern. Anaphylaxis is a severe reaction that requires immediate medical attention and epinephrine administered as soon as possible. Any delay in medical treatment can result in death.
It is possible to find out what foods you are allergic to through a food allergy test. During this test, you will be asked a series of questions regarding your symptoms and food exposure history.
You will then be given a small amount of the foods suspected of causing the allergy and any reaction is monitored.
Alternatively, you may undergo an elimination diet where foods suspected of causing the allergy are eliminated from your diet. These foods will then be added back to your diet one at a time while observing for any reaction. An elimination diet, however, cannot differentiate between a food allergy and food sensitivity and is hence, not recommended for anyone at risk of a severe allergic reaction.
The other food allergy tests usually administered are a Skin Prick Test and lgE Blood Test. Either test may be done together with a food elimination diet, to isolate the food you are allergic to.
The Skin Prick Test is a simple yet accurate way of identifying an allergy – specifically, allergies to dust mites, mold, pet dander, pollen, and foods. Allergens are introduced into your skin through small sterile needles and any reaction, such as raised red bumps or swelling, is observed and later interpreted by your doctor. It takes just 30 minutes for the test results.
The RAST Blood Test tests for specific lgE antibodies produced in response to specific allergens but the range of allergens it is able to test up to 90 foods. As with any other blood test, results to the RAST blood test would take between 1 to 2 weeks
For food allergies, avoiding the food allergens would be best.
In addition to avoiding foods that you are allergic to, you can also consider Allergen Immunotherapy, if you have food allergies such as nut, dairy, and wheat. Allergy Immunotherapy is a preventive treatment for certain types of allergies. It is administered by introducing an increasing dose of allergic substances into your body via oral, sublingual, or injection shots, subtly allowing your body to become acclimatised and desensitised towards the allergen. As a result, your bodily reactions to those allergens become more subdued.
Immunotherapy is suitable for children aged 5 and above, although exceptions do exist.