Food allergies: What you need to know

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By Catherine Holland By Catherine Holland

PHOENIX -- People exposed to high levels of germ- and weed-killing chemicals may be more likely to develop food allergies. The chemicals are called dichlorophenols and they are created by the breakdown of common pesticides and chlorinated chemicals used to purify drinking water. They also turn up in moth balls, air fresheners, deodorizers and herbicides sprayed on crops.

People can be sensitive to foods without having any problems when they eat.

The highest levels of these chemicals in the blood were twice as likely to show sensitivity to at least one food. People who were sensitized to foods had the highest levels of dichlorophenols, according to the study in the Annals of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology.

An idea called the hygiene hypothesis suggests that the cleaner our environment, the sicker we become because our immune systems have robbed us the opportunity to fight off invaders.

Food allergies or food intolerances affect nearly everyone at some time. People often have an unpleasant reaction to something they ate and wonder if they have a food allergy, however only about 5 percent of children have clinically allergic reactions to foods.

The difference between the clinically proven prevalence of food allergy is in part due to reactions called “food intolerances” rather than food allergies. Hypersensitivity is an abnormal response to a food that is triggered by the immune system. Being allergic to milk is different from not being able to digest it properly due to lactose intolerance.

It’s important for people who have true food allergies to identify them and prevent allergic reactions to food.

If you come from a family in which allergies are common -- not necessarily food allergies, but perhaps hay fever, asthma or hives -- you may develop a food allergy. Someone with two allergic parents is more likely to develop food allergies. Food allergies may cause itching in the mouth, trouble breathing or trouble swallowing or abdominal pain, vomiting and diarrhea.

In adults, the most common food allergies include peanuts; tree nuts, such as walnuts; shellfish, such as shrimp, crayfish, lobster and crab; milk and eggs.

In children, the food allergy pattern is different. The most common food allergens in children are eggs, milk and peanuts. Adults usually do not lose their allergies, but outgrow them. Children are more likely to outgrow allergies to milk and eggs.

Another interesting cross-reactivity occurs in people who are highly sensitive to ragweed, who sometimes find that when they try to eat cantaloupe, they have itching in their mouth.

A differential diagnosis means distinguishing a food allergy from food intolerance.

Food intolerance is often confused with a food allergy and is known as lactose intolerance.

Adverse reactions to certain products that are added to enhance taste, provide color or protect against microorganisms can also cause food intolerance.

Sulfites may be added to foods and cause asthmatics into a severe bronchospasm, a constriction of the lungs. The FDA has banned sulfites as spray-on-preservatives in fresh fruit and vegetables.

Gluten intolerance is associated with a disease called celiac and is caused by an abnormal immune response to gluten, which is a component of wheat.

Sometimes, a food allergy diagnosis cannot be made solely on the basis of history, which includes is the reaction always associated with a certain food. Did anyone else get sick? How was the food prepared?

Some doctors recommend an elimination diet.

Skin tests are rapid, simple and relatively safe, however experts do not recommend making a food allergy diagnosis based on a skin test alone. A patient can have a positive skin test to a food without experiencing allergic reactions to that food. The main treatment for food allergies is dietary avoidance, by identifying the food to which you’re sensitive.

Patients with severe food allergies must be prepared to treat an allergic reaction by having an EpiPen available at all times.

Dr. Art Mollen's practice is located at 16100 N. 71st St. in Scottsdale. For more information, call 480-656-0016 or log on to