Is your body reacting to something you consumed?

By: DR TOROOTI MWIRIGI

Most people have had a food allergy sometime in their life. Food allergy is a reaction by the immune system that happens immediately after consuming a particular food.

Even a small quantity of the suspected food is enough to set off signs and symptoms associated with food allergies.

However, a food allergy should not be confused with food intolerance.

Symptoms of food intolerance may be similar to those of food allergy, but the immune system is usually not involved.

There is no specific age at which one can develop a food allergy.

Children are normally at a greater risk of developing allergies especially if there is a family history of food allergy, allergic rhinitis, asthma, or eczema.

There is no cure for allergies, but the good news is that most children usually outgrow the condition.

Food allergies that start in adulthood or persist into adult years are likely to become lifetime allergies.

Allergies are often mild, though at times they can be serious.

It is thus important for a person with a true food allergy to have it identified and prevented so as to avoid complications such as anaphylaxis, which is a severe allergic reaction requiring medical emergency.

Dear doc,

Please explain how eating food one is allergic to causes symptoms of allergy.

Josephat

Dear Josephat,

When a person is allergic to a particular food or an ingredient in food, the immune system mistakenly recognises it as something harmful to the body.

As a result, the immune system causes cells to produce antibodies — blood proteins released in reaction to foreign substances in the body — in order to neutralise the allergen.

These antibodies are called immunoglobin E (lgE). The next time a person consumes even a tiny amount of the allergen, the lgE antibodies are able to sense it and send a signal for the immune system to release histamine and other chemicals into the bloodstream.

These chemicals are the ones that cause allergic symptoms in various parts of the body simultaneously.

Common symptoms include rashes, itchy eyes, runny nose, dry throat, swelling on the face, difficult breathing, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhoea, among others.

Dear doc,

I am a first time mother and just started weaning my six month old baby boy. My question is what foods are likely to cause allergies and how can I keep my baby from developing food allergies?

Mama Ethan

Dear Mama Ethan,

Any type of food can set off an allergic reaction, but usually, protein foods are a common trigger of most food related allergies.

These include cow’s milk, peanuts, eggs, fish, and wheat. You cannot predict whether or not a baby will allergic to certain foods and thus prevention is necessary.

It is thus advisable that when weaning is initiated, only one type of food is introduced at a time so that it is easy to spot any signs of allergic reaction such as a rash.

If a child reacts to a certain food, discontinue it right away. Wait for seven days and then re-introduce the food.

If you notice the appearance of same symptoms, take the baby to a doctor for examinations to confirm whether the symptoms are due to an allergy or another medical problem.

If it is a true allergy, then the doctor will advise on how to avoid the suspected food without affecting the child’s diet.

Dear doc,

I had an egg allergy when I was a child but I have outgrown it. Will my child develop the same allergy and what are other risk factors for having food allergy?

Nirvana

Dear Nirvana,

Children, particularly infants and toddlers are generally at increased risk of having food allergy because of their immature digestive system.

In your case, there is a chance that a baby will develop a food allergy if a parent or a close family member has or has had a food allergy or other conditions like asthma or eczema.

But, there is also a chance the baby will develop a different kind of food allergy and not exactly the same as the family member. Also, the baby may develop other conditions like eczema, hay fever, or asthma, and not necessarily a food allergy.

Dear doc,

My daughter has been having diarrhoea and has lost a lot of weight. After diagnosis, the doctor says she has celiac disease. What is it and is there a cure for it?

Grace

Dear Grace,

Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder. It occurs after consuming gluten, a protein that is present in wheat and barley products.

In people with celiac disease, gluten causes an immune reaction in the small intestines. Eventually, this reaction results into inflammation that causes damage on the lining of the small intestines.

This hinders proper absorption of certain nutrients (malabsorption) hence causing problems like bloating, diarrhoea and loss of weight.

Malabsorption in children can interfere with their growth and development. Celiac disease has no cure, but observing a gluten-free diet helps with management of symptoms and healing of intestines.