You only have to look at the statistics to see how much of an issue food allergy is becoming: the ‘free-from’ foods sector in the UK is set to grow by 46% and estimated to be worth ￡561M by 2017, while the market for gluten-free foods alone has grown by 120 per cent in the past five years.
So why are allergies growing at such an alarming rate?
Some of the latest information and surveys show that allergies are growing worldwide and can affect between 30-35% of people at some stage in their lives. The pattern of allergy is also changing: the increase was originally in asthma and allergic rhinitis (hay fever), but recent studies have confirmed a significant increase in the incidence of food allergies, in particular amongst children. In the UK, it is estimated that up to 50% of children are diagnosed with an allergic condition.
Allergy or intolerance – what’s the difference?
The terms food allergy and food intolerance seem to be a little confused sometimes. So, what is the difference? Well, there are two types of antibodies your body will produce when it comes into contact with a food or substance that it doesn’t like. The classic allergy will happen with the IgE (Immunoglobulin E) antibody. IgE triggers the release of chemicals such as histamine which cause the classic symptoms of allergy– skin rashes, hay fever, rhinitis, sinusitis, asthma, eczema and anaphylaxis. Anaphylaxis is a life-threatening condition whereby the mouth and throat swell, meaning the person may struggle to breathe. It can also be accompanied by a severe asthma attack, an irregular heartbeat and loss of consciousness. IgE allergies are severe and may be life-long. An example of this is peanut allergy. The most common form of food allergy is where the IgG antibody is involved. This is often called ‘delayed-onset’ allergy because the reaction may take anything from an hour to a few days to show itself. The fact that IgG reactions are often due to a number of common foods your child may be eating on a regular basis means that it can be hard to define which one is the culprit. Food intolerance or sensitivity is a reaction to a food where there is no measurable immune response. One example is lactose intolerance, where a child lacks the enzyme lactose. This enzyme is needed to break down the milk sugars so a child who lacks the enzyme may develop diarrhoea and abdominal discomfort when they drink milk.
Genetically, you or your children may be predisposed to the chance of developing allergies. Families where allergies already exist have a higher than average chance of developing allergies themselves. In the UK today, children have a one in five pre-disposition to developing an allergy. However, the risk is doubled if one parent has an allergy (particularly if that parent is the mother). If both parents have allergies, the risk is increased to 60-80 per cent.
What are the symptoms of allergy?
Allergies can affect any system of the body and have a diverse range of symptoms, such as;
• Dark eye circles
• Frequent infections
• Headaches and migraines
What can you do to help?
It might be beneficial to ensure your child has a healthy digestive system. Many children may be suffering from ‘leaky gut’ which means that partially undigested proteins enter their bloodstream and trigger a reaction. A leaky gut can develop with frequent use of antibiotics, gastrointestinal infection, or a deficiency in essential fats, vitamin A or Zinc. So identifying what your child is allergic to, removing the offending food, and then healing their digestive system will all help when dealing with an IgG food allergy. If your child has a history of colic as an infant, eczema, asthma, ear or chest infections, hay fever, seasonal allergies, digestive problems, frequent colds and any learning or behavioural problems, and you suspect a food allergy, it may be worth having them tested for food allergy. Testing is best done under the guidance of an allergy expert who will be able to give the appropriate advice.