Do you know someone who suffers from a food allergy?
An estimated five to eight per cent of children and one to two per cent of adults have a food allergy in the UK.
Ten people die as the result of a reaction to food allergies in the UK each year..
So, what’s the difference between a food allergy and an intolerance?
A food allergy is a reaction to proteins in specific types of food.
A food intolerance, such as coeliac disease or lactose intolerance, is a non-allergic reaction to a food.
A food allergy differs from a food intolerance in that an allergy produces symptoms that are apparent in minutes, whereas a food intolerance develops several hours later.
Also, only a tiny particle of food is needed to trigger a food allergy, whereas a larger amount is needed to trigger intolerance.
The symptoms of an allergic reaction can include:
n A tingling or burning sensation in your lips and mouth
n Swelling of your lips or face
n Abdominal pains
The onset of an anaphylactic reaction can happen in minutes and the symptoms include:
n Rapid swelling of your throat, mouth, lips and face.
n Increasing breathing difficulties due to swelling and tightening of your neck.
n A sharp and sudden drop in your blood pressure, which can make you feel light-headed and confused.
Food allergies are caused by your immune system.
Antibodies – the cells that hunt down and kill infections – target certain types of food.
They release a chemical, which then produces the symptoms of an allergic reaction.
Food intolerances usually occur because the body can’t digest the type of food.
If you think you may have a food allergy or intolerance, you should go and speak to your GP.
You will be tested in one of a number of ways; either with a skin prick test, which involves checking whether or not a certain chemical reacts to your skin; a blood test; or a food challenge test, which involves monitoring your reactions to certain foods.
There are a number of commercially available do-it-yourself food allergy tests but they are not recommended by the NHS as there is little scientific evidence to suggest that they are accurate.
If you suspect you may have a food allergy, you should consult your GP.
Not all allergy sufferers are born with their allergies, they can develop in later life.
Allergies and intolerances are largely treated by completely cutting out the offending food from the diet.
If you are one of those people who has severe food allergies, you can be prescribed adrenaline shots and antihistamines to cope with emergency reactions.
Sufferers of food allergies should follow this advice:
n Be careful when buying food or eating out.n Avoid eating or touching the food they are allergic to.
This includes cross-contamination – for example, using utensils or chopping boards that have touched the offending food.
n Read labels carefully – food manufacturers must state the ingredients on the label, but it’s not compulsory for them to provide allergy advice (‘contains peanuts’ for example).
n Take care with unpackaged food, such as meals from restaurants, certain sandwich shops, and takeaways.
n Inform restaurant staff when you are booking a table to dine out.
n Read the menu carefully, bearing in mind that some desserts contain nuts and some sauces contain wheat.
n Have anti-allergy medication with them at all times.