Arm yourself with the facts behind food allergies. In this episode of the Mercy Health Medical Minute on 700WLW, Mike McConnell interviews Dr. Mark Manegold, a gastroenterologist, about food allergies.
Mike McConnell: Do we know how somebody develops an allergy to say, peanuts?
Dr. Manegold: Yes, it’s actually what we call immune mediated. That means the body’s immune system directs an inflammatory reaction against an ingested food product. Peanuts specifically have gotten a lot of press recently because of potential reactions when people fly on airplanes.
Mike McConnell: Right, you don’t have to actually eat them. If you’re in their presence, a reaction can happen.
Dr. Manegold: Correct. If you inhale or come into contact with peanut dust, that can be enough to cause a reaction.
Mike McConnell: Do we know what causes it?
Dr. Manegold: The reaction is just an exaggerated response of the body’s immune system to an allergen. In this particular case, peanuts.
Mike McConnell: So, there is nothing people with this allergy have in common that would cause this?
Dr. Manegold: Sometimes these people also have pretty severe seasonal allergies, so their immune systems are already revved up, so to speak. They may then have an exaggerated response when exposed to something else, for example, peanuts.
Mike McConnell: So, before the era of the EpiPen, did we lose a lot of people this way?
Dr. Manegold: It’s possible, these reactions can be immediate and severe. They can include hypotension, or low blood pressure, shortness of breath, and swelling of the throat.
We call this anaphylactic shock. If not treated, it can cause death.
Mike McConnell: Would somebody have this reaction the first time they are exposed to an allergen as a child?
Dr. Manegold: Not necessarily. We have always attributed food allergies to be onset in children. But now, we’re seeing that up to 15 percent of the time food allergies present themselves in adults.
Mike McConnell: What would be some other common food allergies?
Dr. Manegold: The first is what we call a contact allergy. These are allergic reactions in the mouth and the oral cavity in which typically a raw fruit or vegetable will produce swelling of the lips, tongue and even the throat. We may also hear of people who eat a lot of tomatoes or strawberries who then develop an allergy.
The most common food allergy that we see in the United States is a seafood allergy, which occurs in up to two percent of the population. It can involve either shellfish, like shrimp, or even finned fish, like grouper or salmon.
Mike McConnell: In a case like that, unlike the peanut, they would have to eat it I would assume?
Dr. Manegold: They would have to ingest it, yes.
Mike McConnell: Can people be treated for this? Let’s say I love seafood, but I developed an allergy last year. Is there a way to get my system back to where I’ll accept it?
Dr. Manegold: You would go through a process called desensitization. And that would be done through an allergist. But, the most common treatment is simply food avoidance.
It’s unfortunate that people have these allergies, but the safest treatment is to simply avoid the food in the first place.
Sometimes people experience unintentional ingestion. This is when food might be cooked with an allergen, they don’t know about it, and then they develop a reaction. If it’s mild, those types of reactions can be treated with an over the counter antihistamine like Benadryl. But in severe cases, patients can self-administer epinephrine or adrenalin through the use of an EpiPen.
Mike McConnell: How about the difference between an allergy and an intolerance?
Dr. Manegold: A food allergy is a severe reaction which can be life-threatening and occurs right after exposure.
Food intolerance is something I think we have all had. It’s a reaction to something you eat that can be aging the GI tract. Everyone tells stories about something they can’t eat now that they could eat 25 to 30 years ago. For example, with acid reflux or heartburn, people might not be able to eat pizza, tomato sauce, chocolate or orange juice without a flare up.
Visit the Mercy Health website to learn more about food allergies.