Food Allergy - What is a food allergy?
Food allergies in different parts of the world:
Worldwide: Milk, Egg
USA, UKA, AUS: Peanuts
France: Mustard seed
Italy, Spain: Peach, apple and shellfish
Spain, Japan: Fish
Singapore: birds nest, shellfish
Almost 1 in 12 young children suffer from a food allergy and they seem to be getting more and more common – but what are food allergies, would you be able to recognise if your child had one and what could you do about it?
The last 40 years has seen a dramatic rise in allergic diseases such as asthma, eczema and hayfever, particularly in the Western world. Along with this ‘allergy epidemic’ has come an increase in food allergies. Once a medical curiosity, almost every class room in the US, UK and Australia now has a child who has to avoid milk, egg or nuts. Food allergies occur when your immune system becomes confused – instead of ignoring harmless food proteins, it triggers a reaction which leads to the release of a chemical called histamine. It is this histamine which causes the classic allergy symptoms of hives or swelling. If the reaction becomes severe then it is called anaphylaxis and this type of reaction may be life threatening. Scientists are still puzzled as to why there has been such a rapid increase in allergies. The most popular explanation is the ‘Hygiene Hypothesis’ which suggests that the increasing cleanliness of the modern world is leaving our immune systems under stimulated. With too few bacteria and viruses to fight our body’s defences start to direct inappropriate responses against harmless things such as pollen or foods. Indeed, as parts of the developing world are becoming more westernised, an increase in allergies is being noticed by doctors.
Most serious food allergies start in infancy and early childhood. They are caused by a relatively small number of different foods. Milk and egg allergy are the most common and tend to disappear during childhood. The other common food ‘allergens’ vary depending on where you live. Whilst peanut and tree nut allergies are common in the US, UK and Australia, fish and seafood allergies are more common in South East Asia and Southern Europe. Wheat, soy, sesame and kiwi are other common problem foods.