Food Allergy Testing Tips

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What kind of tests will I have if my doctor suspects a food allergy?

Tests For Food Allergies Available and Accurate

To determine whether you are allergic, your doctor will administer one or more of several tests for food allergies. These tests vary in accuracy, but taken together with your suspected food allergy symptoms and medical history, can give your doctor an accurate idea of what you are allergic to, if anything.

Skin prick test: Usually performed on the back or the arm, the skin prick test can pinpoint an allergy to a certain food. In the test, the first layer of skin is pricked with a needle containing the food extract. When the test is checked 15 minutes later, doctors look for a reaction in the pricked area. The skin prick test can also test for allergies to plants, like ragweed, grass and trees.

Blood test (RAST test): The RAST test pinpoints the amount of IgE antibody in the blood. Manufactured to fight the allergens in food, the presence of IgE antibodies to certain foods indicates whether you are allergic to those foods.

Elimination diet: In this test, you will simply eliminate from your diet the foods your doctor suspects you may be allergic to. After about two weeks, you will resume eating the suspected foods, one at a time, monitoring how much you ate and any reaction you had. Keep in mind, however, that the elimination diet cannot be used if you had a severe reaction to any food.

   
What are some other allergenic foods I need to know about?

Sesame Seeds, Corn and Food Dyes Also Common Food Allergens

The top eight food allergies are to peanuts, tree nuts, dairy foods, eggs, soy, wheat products, fish and shellfish. The next three foods are sesame seeds, corn and food dyes. It is simple to determine allergies to the eight most common foods, but is it possible to test for food allergies to the less common allergens?

One of the most useful tests for food allergies is the skin prick test, where the skin is scratched and extract of the suspected allergen is applied. Both sesame and corn allergies can be detected using this test. Food allergies to dyes, however, cannot be detected using the skin prick test. Without food dye-specific allergy tests, it is hard to say for sure which dye your child is allergic to. Experts say that many children are allergic to Red #40, yellow #5 and some blue dyes.

If you suspect a food dye allergy, the best course of action would be to eliminate all dyes and add them back in gradually while observing your child's behavior. Food dyes are found in many candies, juices, some crackers and even certain medications. If the label mentions "artificial colors and flavors," you'll want to avoid it.

   
What are my options for treating food allergies?

Food Allergy Treatment Options

Food allergy treatment can be very complex. Once a food allergy is discovered, some doctors recommend complete elimination of the food from your diet. Certain allergenic foods, however, are so common that it may be exceedingly difficult or even nutritionally unsound to cut them out completely. If this is the case, consider consulting a registered dietitian for help with your diet.

You may also be advised to avoid the entire family of foods if you're allergic to a certain one. For example, if you are allergic to peanuts, your allergist may recommend simply avoiding all nuts.

Finally, medications are available to treat the symptoms of food allergies. Antihistamines, like the medication Benadryl, are available to treat symptoms such as rashes, stuffy or runny noses, sneezing and hives. If you have asthma issues that flare up as a symptom of your food allergy, your allergist may prescribe a bronchodilator, like albuterol, which is administered from a handheld inhaler.

If your food allergy elicits a particularly severe reaction, like anaphylaxis, your doctor will likely prescribe an Epi Pen, which contains epinephrine (adrenalin) to stop an anaphylactic reaction.

   
Are genetically engineered foods more allergenic than existing foods?

Genetically Engineered Foods: Miracles or Hidden Dangers?

One of the most talked about advances of our time is the ability to genetically engineer certain kinds of food. While this is huge progress for scientists in agriculture, it raises concerns for the people who eat these "new" foods. The question arises: Will these genetically engineered foods cause reactions in allergic people?

Since the body reacts to certain amino acid sequences (proteins), when you have a food allergy, the body knows which sequences to "look" for. Because these genetically engineered foods consist of new proteins, scientists worry that some of these new proteins might be similar to certain common allergens.

For example, if a protein similar to nut proteins was transferred to genetically engineered potatoes, a person allergic to nuts could then have an unexpected reaction to the potato. For some, this is a very serious problem since their food allergies are life threatening.

Scientists are studying ways to solve this problem, including comparing all new proteins to existing common allergenic proteins.

   
How do I care for my child who has food allergies?

Life With Your Allergic Child

Being allergic to certain foods can be hard for anyone, but having a child with a food allergy can be even more difficult, both for the parents and the child.

If you have a child who is allergic to peanuts, they're forced to miss out on many wonderful things. There is also the worry involved with sending your allergic child to school, a friend's house or even to grandma's house for fear they will accidentally ingest a food deadly for them.

While all of this seems overwhelming at first, life will get easier as you adjust to having an allergic child. Reading labels on foods is extremely important, and while it seems like a huge hassle, you will learn quickly what products your child can and cannot have.

Advise your child's teachers of his food allergy and request that his classroom be kept free of the offending food. For example, many schools today do not allow peanut butter because such a large number of children have a food allergy to peanuts. Also, consider requesting a "Nut Free Zone" in the cafeteria where your child can sit safely without worrying about exposure. A Web site, allergicchild.com even sells "Peanut/Nut Free Zone" signs to remind everyone when a child is severely allergic to these foods.

   
Does my child need an Epi Pen and if so, how is it used?

Epi Pen Jr. Important for Children With Life Threatening Allergies

If your child is diagnosed with a life threatening food allergy, your doctor will probably prescribe the Epi Pen Jr.®. This "pen" administers a single dose of epinephrine to your child in the event of an anaphylactic reaction.

Your child's Epi Pen Jr.® should never be far away. Whether they are at school or at a friend's house, your child or a caregiver must know how to use the Epi Pen Jr.® in case a dangerous food is ingested. Once your child is old enough to carry his own pen, it is vital that the child understands the medication is not to be shown off or shared with friends.

In the Epi Pen Jr.® package, you will receive a "tester pen." Practice using this so you will know what it feels like when the pen is working. There have been cases of "misfires" which would necessitate using a new pen. For this reason, it's advisable to have two pens on hand. Also take note of expiration dates and replace pens as they expire.

While it can be frightening to think about your child having a severe reaction, planning ahead with effective food allergy treatments like the Epi Pen Jr.® can save your child's life.

   
What are food allergies and food intolerances?

Food Allergies Are Becoming More Widespread

Have you ever met someone with food allergies? It's likely that you have. According to Dr. Hugh Sampson, Professor of Pediatrics and Immunobiology at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York, 3.4 to 4 percent of Americans have some kind of food allergy. Unfortunately, this percentage is significantly larger than it has been in the last 20 years, and we're not sure why.

Some speculate that our houses are too clean and don't expose our immune systems to parasites. Thus, the immune system turns on itself and starts fighting off "safe" proteins, like the ones found in nuts. Others think the increase in peanut allergies, for example, is caused by pregnant and nursing women eating peanuts and peanut butter and creating an allergy for their infants. Unfortunately, we don't have any solid information to help prevent these allergies.

Some people have food intolerances, which may cause them to have an unpleasant reaction to a certain food. While this is often labeled a food allergy, it is not a true allergic reaction. A true food allergy sparks a reaction by the immune system, which can be quite dangerous or even fatal. With a food intolerance, the immune system is not involved.

Interestingly enough, 90% of common food allergies are to only eight foods:
* Peanut
* Tree nut
* Milk (Dairy)
* Egg
* Soy
* Wheat
* Fish
* Shellfish

If you suspect that you or your child has a true food allergy, it's imperative to visit your doctor who will test for food allergies.

   
How do I educate people about my family's food allergies?

Education is Vital Food Allergy Treatment

Education is an important part of food allergy treatment. If you are allergic to certain foods or families of foods, do your research. Learn the unlikely foods in which your allergen might show up, and plan ahead to avoid them. Reading labels, contacting manufacturers and never eating anything you're unsure of are the best ways to avoid a reaction.

If your child has a food allergy, the entire family needs to be educated. For preschool children, caregivers must be informed what the child can and cannot have. Furthermore, stress that the caregiver must err on the side of caution, especially if the allergy is life threatening. Ask them never to give your child a food they are unsure of!

As your child gets older, he can carry some of the responsibility for keeping healthy. Still, the entire family must know that reading labels is a vital part of keeping the allergic child healthy. Keeping certain foods out of the house and avoiding certain restaurants may be necessary. While this can cause disappointment or even anger among siblings, it's important that all family members work together to keep the allergic child safe. Planning a special outing to a restaurant they miss might help non-allergic siblings be more supportive.

   
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Jerry Mayo