KIZITO recounts with discomfort the number of times his hosts have had to go to lengths to get him â€œsomething specialâ€ to eat. He does not eat meat and dairy products. He gets swellings whenever he does. As a result, he is selective with what he eats and has decided not to attend functions unles
KIZITO recounts with discomfort the number of times his hosts have had to go to lengths to get him â€œsomething specialâ€ to eat. He does not eat meat and dairy products. He gets swellings whenever he does. As a result, he is selective with what he eats and has decided not to attend functions unless they are his close relativesâ€™.
â€œIn the beginning, I would insist on eating selectively without a fuss,â€ he says. With time, the eczema became so frequent that he decided to skip the social dinners.
It is estimated that about one out of every 100 adults is allergic to a certain food. However, food allergy is more common in children, with 20 out of every 100 children below five years being allergic to certain foods.
Food allergies refer to conditions that result in adverse reactions in certain people after eating particular food stuffs.
Reactions to foods may be caused by processes related to the immune system in the body.
Immune cells responsible for allergic responses are found in all body surfaces including the mouth, skin and alimentary canal. These cells, when triggered by allergens like food, lead to an explosion of their chief constituent (histamine) into the blood stream. This causes itching, sneezing, wheezing, skin rash and diarrhoea.
Examples of foods that contain allergens include those rich in histamine (cheese, spinach, egg plant, red wine, tomatoes), those rich in tyramine (chicken liver, yeast extract) and those rich in serotonin (chocolate, bananas, pineapples, avocado).
On the other hand, some people may have adverse reactions to foods without proven immunological processes. These are known as food intolerances or intolerance to food additives that may bring about toxic reactions to the affected individuals.
Food intolerance applies to patients with enzyme defects. Such patients lack enzymes that break down certain food nutrients (mainly lactose; a sugar chiefly found in milk).
This is known as lactose intolerance and individuals suffering from this condition usually develop stomach cramps, diarrhoea or vomit after taking milk or its products.
Though allergy to foods usually occurs after eating the problematic food stuff, there are some people who may have reactions just from handling food. Some people may be sensitive to not only touching foods like fish, garlic, eggs, grasshoppers, but by also smelling or inhaling them.
Other people are allergic to food additives like preservatives, colouring agents and food colours.
Symptoms of food allergy
Symptoms may be due to the digestive system (like diarrhoea, vomiting, stomach cramps), may be dermatological (e.g. skin rash) or respiratory like wheezing.
Sometimes, a patient may have an itchy running nose or/and itchy eyes. Migraine, too, has occasionally been associated with food allergy and rarely arthritis.
Fatal food allergy is more common than generally appreciated. Important causes include peanuts, soya, eggs, milk and meat.
Early symptoms include burning sensation of the lips and tongue, itching and swelling of the throat, nausea, vomiting, cramps, wheezing and death if the patient is not attended to.
Management of allergies
Patients are advised to avoid eating the problematic foods. However, patients diagnosed with multiple food allergies require advice, preferably from a dietician to facilitate long term guidance and follow up as regards food stuffs consumed. Doctors also give drugs to people who suffer severe reactions from food.
Children who are allergic to milk should not be given milk or its products like yoghurt, cheese and butter. Such patients should also be given calcium and vitamin D supplements.
Likewise, children on egg restricted diets have to avoid all foods containing eggs and should be supplemented with vitamin B and iron.
Soya bean and soya products are found in most infant formulas. More so, patients with soya bean sensitivity may also be allergic to other members of the same legume family, but usually lose their sensitivity within one to three years of initial exposure.
One way of overcoming mild food allergies is to stop eating the problematic food for about two years and then try to eat it again. Many patients, especially children, outgrow their food sensitivity even if their initial experience was severe.
This works for mild sensitivity to foods like milk, beef, soya and wheat.
Children who suffer allergies can suffer severe malnutrition if their diets are not well supplemented.
For adults, restrictive diets may cause social isolation especially if alternative foods are not served at social functions. Where such patients suffer excessive fears, they need a psychologist for support.
Patients should always be given professional dietetic counselling and instructions on how to handle allergic emergencies.
Food allergies may lead to death