Can Anybody Help Me?
Being an allergist, one of the things that I’m often struck by is how long people have struggled in life without any answers to their concerns. Many people who are concerned that they may be allergic to foods are simple told to ‘avoid it’ and they live their life never knowing if they are really allergic or how serious a reaction could be. Despite allergies and atopic conditions (eczema, asthma, hayfever, food allergies) affecting so many people in the UK, it is an area poorly understood by many medical professionals and sadly this means the advice given is highly variable and often inaccurate. I freely admit that when my son Ethan had an allergic reaction when he was 6 months old, I was completely clueless. Despite being a doctor at the time and in training to be a General Practitioner, I think the most training I had ever had on allergies was one day at university. This is unfortunately all too common a story despite campaigning from various allergy charities and the British Society of Allergy (BSACI). In order to improve my knowledge to benefit my son and patients I went back to university for a second time and completed the Masters in Allergy. From this point on, I’ve worked in the field of allergy and spent countless hours educating my colleagues in primary and secondary care.
Do I have an Allergy?
Studies have shown that around 25% of parents believe their child has a food allergy and whilst allergy is common – only around 3-6% of children will be affected and 1-2% of adults. This means there are a lot of people in the community with potentially unnecessary worries or other undiagnosed problems.
Whenever food allergy is being considered, it is vital that time is taken to listen and hear what the concerns are. Time should be spent finding out what foods are being avoided and why.
Food allergy is broadly divided into two types of allergy – IgE Mediated Allergy and Non IgE Mediated Allergy. IgE mediated allergy presents quickly after exposure to the food or substance you are allergic to – it can cause hives, swelling, vomiting, diarrhoea and anaphylaxis. It is often obvious and testing can confirm the diagnosis.
Non IgE mediated allergy is harder to diagnose and food diaries can be helpful to pin point the problem (an example can be found on the AllergyUk website Food and Symptoms Diary | Allergy UK | National Charity). This type of allergy cannot be tested for and careful questioning is needed to ensure it is not missed.
Living with allergies is a burden and causes understandable anxiety but ‘Knowledge is Power’ and with the right help and support you can live a well-rounded, happy life.