We would like to thank the Better Business Bureau for nominating Chattanooga Allergy Clinic for the 2013 Torch Award for Marketplace Ethics.
Think you have a food allergy? You might want to reconsider. No one can dispute that food allergies are serious business, and their incidence is on the rise. But while 20-25% of Americans think they have a food allergy, in truth only 2-3% of adults and 6-8% of children test positive for food allergies. For this reason, it’s crucial to get a diagnosis by a board certified allergist if you suspect sensitivity to a certain food.
“Food allergies can be very unpredictable – it’s impossible to know if your next reaction will be more or less severe than previous exposures,” says Dr. Lee Perry, allergist with Chattanooga Allergy Clinic. “You certainly never want to ‘test’ it on your own, but you also don’t want to avoid a food unnecessarily.”
Not only is Dr. Perry a double-board certified pediatric and adult allergy and asthma specialist, he also has personal experience with food allergies. His oldest son was diagnosed with a peanut allergy several years ago.
“When he was first diagnosed we were blown away – we thought ‘How do we deal with this?’” he admits. “But after a while it just becomes a part of your life.”
So, what do you do if you suspect food allergies? Here’s a quick breakdown on everything you need to know, from getting diagnosed to how to cope.
“True food allergies almost always involve a cutaneous (skin) component such as hives, eczema, rash or itching,” says Dr. Perry. “Symptoms occur almost immediately after eating the food – usually within 15 minutes to 2 hours.”
Other common symptoms include:
- Swelling of the lips, tongue or throat
- Vomiting or diarrhea, usually within one hour of digestion
- Shortness of breath, cough or wheezing
- See full list
ALLERGY VS. INTOLERANCE
Food intolerances are easy to confuse with allergies. Symptoms usually occur within 30 minutes to two hours of ingestion and can mimic allergic reactions like diarrhea and itchy skin rash. However, problems from intolerances remain in the gut and do not involve the immune system, so anaphylaxis can’t happen. The two most common intolerances are lactose and gluten, also called Celiac Disease. A board certified allergist at Chattanooga Allergy Clinic can accurately diagnose whether you have an intolerance or allergy.
OTHER FOOD DISORDERS
Other food disorders confused as allergies include:
- Eosinophilic esophagitis (EoE) -A disorder that causes a large number of eosinophils (a type of white blood cell) to gather in the esophagus, making it inflamed and difficult to swallow certain foods.
- Food protein-induced enterocolitis syndrome(FPIES) -A type of food allergy that affects the GI tract and does not show up in standard allergy testing. Symptoms include profuse vomiting, diarrhea and dehydration.
- Oral Allergy Syndrome -Also known as pollen-food syndrome, OAS causes itchy or scratchy mouth symptoms caused by raw fruits or vegetables in people who also have hay fever. Generally, treatment is not necessary and symptoms subside quickly after exposure. Common food pollen associations include apples, carrots, peaches, plums, cherries, pears, almonds or hazelnuts for people allergic to birch; tomatoes for those allergic to grasses; and melons, zucchini, cucumbers, kiwis or bananas for those with ragweed allergies.
As we mentioned above, diagnosing food allergies should be done by a board certified allergist. Testing can be done at any age, even infants. The first step is a detailed medical history. From there, doctors usually order a skin prick test, where your back is lightly “scratched” with the suspected food protein. Usually a large, red welt will appear if allergic. Sometimes blood tests are done, but they’re not a first resort because they’re more expensive and take longer to get results. If results from both tests are still inconclusive, your doctor may order an oral food challenge in which he/she feeds you the suspect food in measured doses, starting with a very small amount.
HOW TO COPE
It’s easy to feel overwhelmed after receiving a food allergy diagnosis, but do not despair. There are plenty of resources available, including websites likewww.foodallergy.org. You may also want to seek out local support groups.
The two main strategies are strict avoidance (your doctor can provide guidance) and always carrying two doses of epinephrine (EpiPen®) and/or Benadryl for milder reactions.
OTHER FASCINATING FACTS
- You can develop food allergies as your get older, and science has not been able to determine why.
- Many children outgrow allergies so doctors recommend retesting every year or two. Retesting in adults is rare – they’re likely to keep them for good.
- Scientist recently discovered a new, unusual food allergy to meat called Gal Alpha Gal, which is caused by a bite from the Lone Star tick. Unlike other food allergies, the reaction occurs within 3 to 6 hours of ingesting any mammalian meat like beef, pork, lamb, goat, venison and buffalo. Symptoms include itching, hives, swelling and even anaphylaxis.
- No one knows exactly why food allergies are on the rise, but most experts suspect diet restriction early in life. The American Academy of Pediatrics used to recommend not exposing kids to certain foods until age 2, such as peanuts. But in Israel, where 69% of babies are exposed to peanuts by 9 months old, the rate of peanut allergies is less than 1%.
- There are promising studies at Duke University for a food allergy cure, called oral immunotherapy. However, Dr. Perry predicts we’re still probably 10 to 20 years away from implementing the therapy on a wide-scale.
Tune into 102.3 FM tonight at 7 pm to hear Drs. Cromie and Levin Chew the Chat with Jed Mescon!
Even if you’ve never wheezed a day in your life, you could still have asthma. And no symptom should go overlooked, warns Dr. Todd A. Levin of Chattanooga Allergy Clinic.
His office sees hundreds of cases each year, with patients ranging from infant to senior citizen. And while it’s true that asthma is classified as mild, moderate or severe, anyone with the disease should be monitored closely by a medical professional.
“Roughly 1/3 of all asthma deaths come from people with either undiagnosed or mild asthma,” he says.
In simplest terms, asthma is caused by inflammation in the lungs that constricts the airways. But it’s a complicated, often tricky disease because patients can be virtually symptom free then suddenly have an attack (technically called an exacerbation). Usually there is a trigger of some sort, such as pollen or even the common cold.
Approximately 22 million Americans have asthma according to the National Institutes of Health’s Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. How do you know if you’re one of them? The most recognized symptom is wheezing – that telltale whistling sound in the lungs. But there are lesser-known symptoms that should never be ignored:
- Shortness of breath
- Frequent cough (particularly at night or in the morning)
- Feeling tired or weak during exercise
- Chest tightness
- Coughing or wheezing after exercise
WHEN TO SEE A DOCTOR
If you exhibit any of these symptoms on a regular basis, it’s time to see the doctor. “Anyone coughing more than 2 nights per week, wheezing more than 2 days per month or coughing during exercise needs to see a doctor,” says Dr. Levin. “They need to be evaluated or, if already diagnosed, they need to step up their therapy.”
The benefit of being evaluated by an allergist is they can easily perform allergy testing at the same time. Roughly 80 percent of all asthmatics have an allergic trigger, and controlling the allergy can mean a step down in asthma medication. “In a study of patients allergic to dust mites, those treated with dust mite allergy shots were able to take a 50 percent lower dose of their asthma medication,” says Levin.
WHAT TO EXPECT
Chattanooga Allergy Clinic can evaluate you or your child in just one office visit by taking a detailed medical history, performing a pulmonary function test and, of course, allergy testing. A pulmonary function test can be done on anyone over age 5 and it’s an easy, non-invasive procedure that involves breathing into a tube.
WHAT TO DO IF IT’S ASTHMA
- TAKE MEDICATION AS PRESCRIBED:
The gold standard of treatment is inhaled steroids. While over-the-counter inhalers exist they’re not deemed safe by the medical community, warns Levin. Your doctor will prescribe the minimum dosage to control symptoms, but a common problem is for people to stop taking their medication once they feel better. “If you truly have asthma, you’re not going to outgrow it,” says Levin. “It may go into remission, but you’ll always have the underlying disease process.”
- FOLLOW UP REGULARLY WITH YOUR DOCTOR:
Given the unpredictable nature of asthma, it’s vital to be evaluated by a medical professional on a regular basis. “You can have inflammation and not exhibit any symptoms, so the only way to know how you’re responding to treatment is to regularly monitor lung function,” he says. Official guidelines recommend being checked by a medial professional at least two to four times per year.
- BE AWARE OF TRIGGERS:
Triggers come in many forms, and knowing what yours are can help you reduce exposure or be proactive about stepping up treatment. The most common is rhinovirus (the common cold) or other upper respiratory illnesses such as walking pneumonia. Whenever possible your doctor can prescribe antibiotics to get infections under control. Here are a few other common triggers:
- RSV (for children under 3)
- Tobacco smoke
- Weather changes
- Irritants such as strong smells, smoke, exhaust fumes
- Pet Dander
Ultimately the goal is to have absolutely no symptoms and be able to do whatever you want, whenever you want to do it. If you don’t fall into that category, it’s time to make a phone call.
Thanks to the Times Free Press for the great article, Chattanooga Allergy Clinic Battles Spring Blossosm, featuring Dr. Marc Cromie.
Click here to read the full article.