Melomed Articles

14 February 2019 - Dr. Thulja Trikamjee

Lets talk Food Allergies!

The world is seeing a dramatic rise in allergic diseases, and we are literally finding ourselves in the midst on an allergy epidemic. This means that every person today is at a higher risk than ever before of suffering from some form of allergy. A child without any family history of allergies is now at 15% risk of developing an allergic condition, within the first few years; if one parent has an allergy, the child's risk increases to approximately 40-50%, and if both parents are allergic, the risk is as great as 60-80%. Having siblings with allergies also place a significantly greater risk of developing allergies. 

Why is pregnancy so important when it comes to dealing with allergies?
Allergy prevention begins when you find out that you are pregnant. This is because the fetus is still developing, and has the potential to develop immunity to substances that it is exposed to. 

The way this works is that, while your immune system is still developing, it is making it's own antibodies. If allergenic substances are exposed to a baby at this time, they are less likely (but not 100% prevented) to develop allergy to these substances. 

How does this help my child ? 
Well, unbeknown to you, when you eat something, tiny little food proteins from your food, pass through the umbilical cord, to your baby. If this continues to occur throughout your pregnancy, your baby's immune system will be able to recognize these food particles later on when you start feeding them and oral exposure occurs. 

I find out that I am pregnant, now what?
1. Eat a healthy diet, including all major food groups
2. Do not cut out, or reduce your consumption of any specific allergenic foods, such as dairy, egg, seafood, nuts
3. Do not smoke tobacco during pregnancy 
4. Consider increasing your intake of oily fish, or take an omega supplement
5. There is some benefit to taking probiotics in the last trimester, but this is still being researched
6. Introduced solids, and in particular allergenic foods early - between 4-6 months is found to be most beneficial

During the delivery, natural methods are preferable over caesarian section, however, this is often uncontrollable, and your obstetrician should be consulted regarding your history and preferences. Ultimately, in the case of an emergency, a decision will be made to ensure the safety of you and your newborn. 

Once babies are born, exclusive breastfeeding is recommended till 4 months of age. Breastmilk is composed of multiple immune factors and properties, which altogether, can assist in allergy prevention, as well as protection from infections. Ensuring that you do not avoid any specific foods yourself for the sake of allergy prevention is important. It is better for you to eat most of the allergenic food groups whilst breastfeeding, to again, expose your baby to trace amounts of these proteins in the breastmilk. 

How do I diagnose a food allergy?
Medicine is an ever-evolving science, and the field of allergies and immunology is rapidly changing. This means that there are new and novel ways to diagnose and treat your food allergies today. This is why it is so important to see an allergy specialist if you or your child are suffering from an allergy, or related condition. Many of the panel tests that were used for allergy diagnosis previously are now replaced with more accurate and specific tests, which are more efficient in diagnosing whether your child is truly allergic, or whether they are able to tolerate a substance. Also, it is now known that most children outgrow their allergies, and an allergy specialist will be able to guide you through the years, to the point where hopefully your child can safely be cured' of their food allergy. 

Will my child outgrow their food allergy?
Worldwide statistics indicate that most children outgrow their allergies, however, every child is different, and each food has it's own pattern. For example, milk, egg and many nut allergies are outgrown in a large proportion of children. When you follow up with your allergy doctor, they will assess the levels with time and monitor when a child is likely to have outgrown their allergy. 

Lastly, as much as food allergies are on the rise, so is our knowledge on this subject. Billions are spent every year on research, and the treatment of food allergies has drastically improved in the last decade. Gone are the days when you are told you are allergic and have to spend your life in fear of the substance. There are many new strategies and treatment options for treating allergies, and these can improve your quality of life considerably. 


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