Nurse practitioner answers some frequently asked food-allergy questions

Apr 24

I like posting these types of articles because it brings to the forefront some common questions regarding food allergies. You can never have too much info about what to do or how to know what it is.


Nurse practitioner and manager of the Bunning Food Allergy Program at Children’s Memorial Hospital, Christine Szychlinski, is recruiting parents for an extensive, ongoing study to determine the causes of food allergies. She explains some food allergy basics:


Q:  How are food allergies different from food sensitization and desensitization?

A:  A food allergy really happens with every ingestion. You cannot eat cheese one day and not tolerate milk the next and think it’s a cow’s milk allergy. Sensitization to food is a positive allergy test without a history of an allergic reaction. At one point in time your body recognized that as an allergen, but not to the point where it would make you ill. Sensitization is a process where people can eat the food in prescribed doses and can tolerate it, but they must eat it every day. However, if you stop eating the food, your allergy will re-emerge. That is not what we want overall for families. What we want for the children is tolerance. Tolerance means a person can eat the food in any amount at any time.

Q:  How prevalent are food allergies?

A:  Six percent of young children have food allergies and 4 percent of the adult population. The prevalence of food allergies is growing worldwide. There are approximately 150 deaths per year and 90 percent of those are preventable.

Cow’s milk is the most common allergy among young children. Egg white is another common allergy that has become a bigger issue for children since we now recommend that children get an influenza vaccine grown in egg at six months of age. Peanut allergies are also common, and unlike cow’s milk and egg white, are unlikely to be outgrown. A child’s diagnosis is allergen dependent.

Q:  How should I talk to my doctor about allergy symptoms?

A:  It’s very important to describe symptoms simply. I’ve been accused more than once of thinking my patients are unsophisticated because I want them to use general terms. I want you to tell me what you saw because a lot times people will ascribe things to allergies that it’s my job to determine if it is allergies.

Q:  How do you diagnosis a food allergy?

A:  The most important thing is the history. I want to know what surrounded these episodes, exactly what happened. Tell your doctor what you saw, how soon the symptoms started and all the foods that are ingested. When we ask you 1,000 questions, we’re not challenging you and we’re not thinking you don’t know what you’re talking about. We really are trying to find out what caused a child’s reaction.

Another important part for your doctor to know is: What was done, and did it work? We need to know these things bit by bit, and in your own words. After the complete history is done, testing can be used to confirm or refute the history.

Q:  How can allergies be treated or prevented?

A:  Strict avoidance, reading labels and avoiding cross contamination of foods processed or packaged in facilities where a food you’re allergic to is also processed can help prevent food allergies. Also wearing medical id jewelry, having an epinephrine prescription and having an emergency plan are helpful. You can make an emergency plan with the help of .

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