This week is National Food Allergy Awareness Week, so Patch asked Dr. Naba Sharif, an Allergist practicing in Upper Marlboro, a few common questions about food allergies.
Upper Marlboro Patch: At what age are most food allergies diagnosed?
Dr. Naba Sharif: Food allergies are most commonly diagnosed in infancy and childhood, but can present at any age.
Patch: Can a person "grow out" of a food allergy?
Sharif: Yes, particularly food allergies to milk, eggs, wheat or soy can be outgrown by five years of age, though it seems they are taking longer to outgrow than in the past, with about half not resolving until teenage years.
Patch: Can a person develop food allergies as an adult? Is this common?
Sharif: Yes, allergies to foods can definitely develop de novo, or for the first time, in adults. While overall, this is less common than developing them as children, food allergy in general is increasing both in the adult and pediatric populations.
Patch: What are the most common food allergies?
Sharif: In children, cow's milk, eggs, wheat, soy and peanuts are the most common causes of food allergies. In adults, peanuts, tree nuts, fish and shellfish are the most common. Together, these eight foods account for >90% of allergy reactions to food.
Patch: What are some common symptoms of food allergies that often go unnoticed?
Sharif: A tingling or itching sensation in the mouth or throat, coughing, skin flushing, abdominal cramps, vomiting, or moderate to severe eczema can be mistakenly cast aside as unrelated to a potentially allergenic food. More obvious symptoms are hives, swelling of the mouth or throat, difficulty breathing or wheezing, a loss of consciousness or low blood pressure leading to shock. Symptoms generally occur within minutes to two hours after eating the allergenic food.
Patch: What is an allergy "skin test" and at what age can a skin test be successfully performed on a child?
Sharif: After a careful history of foods consumed prior to the reaction, and how soon the symptoms came on, skin tests and/or blood tests can be done to help determine the possibility of food allergy. Skin tests involve pricking you gently with a drop of the possible foods on your forearm or back and observing for any raised wheal at the site after 15-20 minutes. Skin testing to foods can be done at any age.
Patch: Are food allergies hereditary?
Sharif: Research has shown that children who are born to food-allergic parents are more likely to have food allergies themselves, but not necessarily the same allergies. Also, there is an "atopic triad" of eczema, asthma and allergies, which are related and having one or more of those can have a genetic link.
Patch: Is a person with food allergies more likely to have other types of allergies, like animal dander allergies or seasonal allergies?
Sharif: Yes; furthermore, a parent with any kind of allergy is predisposed to have a child that develops an allergy, whether it is seasonal, environmental and/or food. Usually, but not always, food allergy occurs in families that have tendencies towards allergic conditions such as those in the atopic triad. We still do not know why one family member may have a food allergy when all others have environmental or seasonal allergies.
If you have any further questions about food allergies or any type of allergies, you can contact Dr. Sharif, who is Director of Allergy and Immunology at Allergy and Asthma Associates, A Division of Riverside Medical Group, 9560 Marlboro Pike, Suite 202, Upper Marlboro, call 301-599-9550, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.