WHILE self-reported food allergy is prevalent globally, only a small proportion, ranging between 1-5%, have an actual food allergy, according to an expert.
Diagnosed individuals should avoid allergenic food to prevent complications, said Raquel Isabelle de Guzman-Donado, an allergy and immunology specialist.
Food allergy and food intolerance are two different conditions. Food allergy triggers an immune system response that can result in serious symptoms, including breathing difficulties and a drop in blood pressure. Conversely, food intolerance affects the digestive system and typically causes milder symptoms, such as stomach discomfort.
Ms. Donado warned that people with food allergies may face life-threatening symptoms, even if their previous reactions have been mild.
She said that people who take antihistamines or other allergy medicines before eating food they are allergic to should be careful. “It’s riskier to pre-medicate because it gives you a false sense of security. You think you’re safe, and then you proceed to feast,” she said in Filipino during a Feb. 18 radio program on Veritas of the Philippine College of Physicians.
There is no predicting the severity of food allergy reactions, she said.
“You might think you don’t have any reactions, but then when the effect of the antihistamine wanes…, all the symptoms come crashing down.”
The most severe complication that can arise from an allergy is anaphylaxis, which causes symptoms like constriction of the airways and disturbances in heart rhythm.
About 93% of adolescent and adults in the Philippines aged 10 to 59 remain untested to food allergies, according to a study submitted to the Asian Institute of Management. Only 2.29% of the tested population in the country account for fish allergies. No other data is present for major allergens such as peanuts, egg, shellfish, wheat and cow’s milk.
The June 2019 study also found that affordability, availability, and accessibility are the three problems affecting food sensitivity and allergy detection in the country.
“In the Philippines, because of childhood exposure and other geographical and diet factors, the top allergens are shellfish and fish,” Ms. Donado said.
Other conditions that mimic food allergy symptoms include food aversion, which is a strong dislike for a particular food, and eating disorders, which are severe disturbances to a person’s eating behaviors and related thoughts.
To reach a food allergy diagnosis, allergologists cross-check a patient’s history with allergy tests, Ms. Donado said.
“It’s a painstaking process to get to a food allergy diagnosis,” she added, noting how reactions to preservatives and additives could be also mistaken for food allergies. — Patricia B. Mirasol