Using an allergy tracker is a great way to stay on top of food allergies and manage allergy prevention. For some, food allergies can be more harmful that they are for others. A food allergy might be so serious that it dictates what we can eat, right down to minute amounts of food. A food allergy might even restrict one’s quality of life. For others, a food allergy is simply an inconvenience. We might not be able to eat certain foods, or our bodies might have a small adverse reaction to a few products. The scale of severity for food allergies is very wide. But what exactly are food allergies?
This article will provide a general overview of food allergies. We will discuss what happens in your body during an allergic reaction, the different kinds of allergies, some common examples and the general process for treating allergies. We will also talk about how to stop allergies, and even prevent food allergies from occurring. This article will finish with a discussion of CareClinic, and how this app could be used as an allergy tracker.
What is a food allergy?
A food allergy is an adverse reaction to a particular food or food group. Your body has an immune system, which is a way to defend itself from foreign particles and infections. When you have an allergic reaction, it is because your body has identified a foreign substance as being harmful, even when it might not be. For example, let’s look at someone with a peanut allergy. When they ingest peanuts, tiny little peanut particles enter that person’s blood stream. In response, the body produces an antibody called Immunoglobulin E, or IgE. An antibody is a small, Y-shaped protein that the body uses as a sort of tag.
The immune system is very clever and will ‘tag’ foreign particles with these antibodies. The peanut particles get ‘tagged’ with IgE. Then, the immune system recognizes these tagged particles and destroys them or flushes them away. This is an immune response. The immune system is really good at recognizing bacteria and other pathogens that make you sick. However, sometimes the immune system recognizes some things as harmful even when they are not. Let’s look at some common foods that can induce allergic reactions; these are known as allergens. To understand allergy prevention, we must first get a good handle on the types of allergens.
People are allergic to all different kinds of food. Food allergies most commonly develop in younger children, especially between ages one and four (R). However, many food allergies will resolve in children as they grow up. What are the most common foods that people are allergic to?
The Big Eight
The ‘big eight’ are eight food groups that are responsible for 90% of food allergy reactions in the United States (R). The big eight are as follows:
- Tree nuts e.g. almonds, cashews, brazil nuts, pecans etc.
You are likely to know someone with an allergy to one or more of these food groups. Some people are allergic to these foods as children, but then grow out of them. For example, one study found that 68% of childhood egg allergies were resolved by age 16 (R). On the other side of the spectrum, fish allergies are known to develop in adulthood. The big eight are certainly the main allergens to watch out for. However, food allergies are not just restricted to the foods listed above. Seed allergies in particular are on the rise, with many reacting poorly to sesame found in products like tahini (R).
Other common allergens include chocolate, mint leaves, and meat. The reality is that almost all foods are allergens to at least a few people. Knowing what foods trigger to avoid for allergy prevention is important for your health and wellbeing. How can you know whether you have food allergies?
Diagnosing food allergies
There are a few different ways to know if you are allergic to any foods. These are described below.
We now know that most food allergies appear when we are younger. You have probably been told what foods you were, or still are, allergic to by your parents. Your parents and family members can provide a lot of information about your childhood allergies, most of which can be found in your childhood medical records. You should also be informed about whether these allergies have persisted as you have aged. Keep in mind that a lot of food allergies clear up after childhood.
If you suspect you might be allergic to something, but your medical history does not reveal anything obvious, then there are other ways to find out what the allergen might be. One of these ways is to conduct a kind of experiment yourself, known as an elimination diet. An elimination diet involves removing a certain food from your diet for a period of two weeks to a few months. If your symptoms ease but you keep the rest of your diet mostly the same, then you know that the food you eliminated was causing your allergies.
It is common to experiment with the elimination diet to test what you think might be causing your allergies. You might want to remove a specific food entirely, such as eggs or aromatics like garlic and onion. On the other hand, you might suspect you are allergic to a broader range of foods with a common ingredient, such as lactose or wheat. The elimination diet is a simple and inexpensive way to test for food allergies.
Skin prick tests
If you suspect that you might be allergic to a wide range of foods, then a skin prick test can help provide accurate results in a timely fashion. In a skin prick test, tiny amounts of different allergens are applied to a board with many small needles. The board is placed on a section of your body, normally the arm or back. Then, force is applied to puncture the first layer of skin and push the allergen under the skin. If you are allergic to one of the substances, that section of the skin will become red and blotchy, resembling a hive. Skin prick tests are good for testing a large number of potential allergens in one go. They also give results quickly.
Some people might find the test uncomfortable, especially if you are found to have an allergic reaction. If you think a skin prick test might be right for you, ask your doctor about them. Sometimes, we find out we have allergies when we’re not even looking for them. Many allergic reactions can be accidental and unexpected. Sometimes, the easiest way to tell if you are allergic to something is to know the signs and symptoms of an allergic reaction well. What might these be?
Symptoms of an allergic reaction
There are many telltale signs that you may be experiencing an allergic reaction. Most symptoms will cause only mild discomfort, however there are a few more dangerous reactions that should be noted carefully. Having an understanding of the symptoms can help you successfully practice food allergy prevention. Most allergies produce reactions such as:
- Itchiness, which could appear as hives or eczema. Hives and eczema are irritable skin conditions that cause the skin to appear blotchy, lumpy and red.
- Tingling sensation in the mouth
- Swelling of lips, mouth or other parts of the body
- Stomach problems including nausea, vomiting or diarrhea
These symptoms are mostly mild and can be treated using medications. These will be discussed further in the next section. However, more severe allergic reactions are not so easily treated. Anaphylaxis is a life-threatening form of an allergic reaction. You should be able to recognize the signs of anaphylaxis so you can act fast. Untreated anaphylaxis can lead to a coma or even death. The symptoms of anaphylaxis are:
- Tightness in chest, wheezing and difficulty breathing
- Feeling like the throat is swelling to the point where breathing is obstructed
- A rapid increase in pulse or a sharp drop in blood pressure. These are symptoms of shock
- Dizziness or passing out
If a person begins experiencing any of these you should call emergency services immediately. You should also check to see if they have an EpiPen. An EpiPen can save the life of someone experiencing anaphylaxis. Let’s take a deeper look at the EpiPen and other forms of treatment for food allergies.
Treating allergic reactions
An EpiPen is an epinephrine autoinjector, a medical device that administers a single dose of epinephrine. Epinephrine is also known as adrenaline. An EpiPen is shaped like a real ballpoint pen, and is carried by most people who know they suffer from a severe allergy that could cause anaphylaxis. When that person appears to be experiencing symptoms, the EpiPen should be held against the outside of the thigh. A needle will deliver a dose of epinephrine, a hormone which is used to treat allergic reactions. Epinephrine has many effects. Some of these include raising blood pressure, blood sugar and blood flow. When used correctly, an EpiPen has the potential to save the life of someone experiencing anaphylaxis. After using the EpiPen, emergency services should still be called. This is because one dose of adrenaline is often not enough.
For many, allergic reactions are rarely life threatening. Most experience only the mild symptoms described above, like itchiness, blotching of the skin, and swelling of the lips. The most common way of treating these more mild symptoms is to take medication. Antihistamines are an over-the-counter drug used to treat hives, itchiness and swelling. Antihistamines work by blocking histamine from doing its job. Histamine causes tissues to become leaky, allowing fluid to escape. Histamine therefore causes the classic allergy symptoms of a runny nose and watery eyes. Antihistamines prevent histamine from doing this. Some examples of antihistamines are Benadryl and Allegra, both of which are relatively cheap and widely available.
Allergy prevention and reactions
Now we know how to test for allergies, some symptoms and how to treat them, how can we go about preventing allergic reactions from occurring?
There has been a lot of research done about the ‘big eight’ allergens. Researchers have asked whether introducing these foods into a child’s diet earlier than usual reduces the chance of them having allergies to these foods later on. It turns out that there might be some truth to this idea. One study of 2,589 infants found that those who were introduced to cooked eggs at 4 to 6 months were less likely to develop an egg allergy than those introduced to eggs later (R). Other studies have had mixed results, but this idea is definitely worth exploring.
Being aware of food ingredients
Most mothers tend to be hyper-aware of their child’s diet anyway, but knowing exactly what your child is eating is a good way to stay alert. Make sure you are aware of what your child eats, including the ingredients in their baby food and formula. A comprehensive list of ingredients can be found on the packaging of all foods. Pay special attention when your child consumes any one of the big eight allergens, especially if it is the first time they are trying this food. This will make diagnosing food allergies easier, should they react to something in their food.
Informing the right people
You can be as careful as can possibly be, but sometimes things happen that are outside of your control. Informing the right people of your child’s allergies is a great way to expand the control you have over your child’s eating habits. People who should know about your child’s allergies include their preschool teachers, sports coaches, swim instructors and family friends. Basically anyone who is in close proximity to your child, especially around mealtimes, should be aware of their allergies. Making sure these people know how to operate an EpiPen is also a good precaution to take. And of course, make sure to explain to your child their allergies, including why they can’t eat certain foods and what to do if they accidentally do.
Using an allergy tracker
A great way to practice allergy prevention is to use an allergy tracker. The CareClinic app is perfect for this. The CareClinic app has all the functions you would expect from an allergy tracker. However, CareClinic also has the added bonus of not just being an allergy tracker. Instead, the app has many different modules to help you keep track of your overall health. Let’s have a look at the features of CareClinic that make it a perfect allergy tracker.
One of CareClinic’s main components is the nutrition section. Here you are able to keep track of your diet by inputting the foods you eat on a daily basis. The CareClinic nutrition database covers a wide range of foods, but is constantly expanding and updating. As you can imagine, keeping a log of all the food you eat is the perfect way to track how an elimination diet is going. Elimination diets use the removal of one particular food to determine whether that food is causing your allergies. Your nutrition log provided by CareClinic allows you to easily see what foods you are eating over long periods of time. Coupling this feature with the symptom tracking section of CareClinic, and you have a powerful allergy tracking app.
A staple of the CareClinic app, symptom tracking is a fantastic way to stay on top of your health. When you check in daily on CareClinic, you can select from a huge list of symptoms that you might have felt that day. One of the symptoms you can select is general ‘allergies’, which can be described more in detail in the free-written notes section. You can also add symptoms such as ‘itchiness’, ‘rashes’ and other skin problems, ‘swelling’, ‘dizziness’ and many more. When you track both your food intake and your allergy symptoms, it makes it much easier to figure out what is causing your allergies. Using an allergy tracker like CareClinic is a great way to not only determine what is causing your allergies, but also to stay on top of your allergies and overall health.
A further function of CareClinic that makes it a suitable allergy tracker app is the medicine and supplements section. Here, you can input what medications you are taking with a lot of detail. You can note the dose and the time you took the medication, and you can even set reminders to take your medication. This is a great way to stay on top of the medications you might be taking for your allergies. An additional feature of CareClinic is that the app will let you know of any unwanted interactions between your medications. This is especially important for people taking many different medications at once.
In the age of digital technology, there are many tools that can help us manage our diseases and illnesses. Technology can also help us with allergy prevention. Using an allergy tracker is a perfect example of this. CareClinic provides all the functions you would expect of a typical allergy tracker app. But CareClinic goes a step further, containing all the functions you need to keep track of your overall health too. Try CareClinic for yourself today!