Allergies occur when an overactive immune system produces proteins called IgE antibodies against substances in the environment that are otherwise harmless — pollens, house dust mites, moulds, animal hair (dander), and in some cases, specific food proteins. Food allergy is mainly a problem of infants, toddlers and young children.
Over 90% of cases are associated with atopic eczema — an intensely itchy chronic skin rash affecting the face, arms, legs, and other parts of the body — and there is usually a family history of allergic disorders such as asthma, hay fever and eczema.
In adults, a single food such as peanut or shellfish is usually involved, but children are commonly allergic to two or three foods, sometimes more. The most common ones are peanut, egg, milk, other nuts, seafoods and / or sesame. Fortunately, most children grow out of their egg and milk allergies before they reach school age, or during the early school years, but allergies to nuts and seafoods can persist. Wheat and soy can cause allergies, but they tend to be mild and transient.
New food allergies can occasionally arise in adult life, usually with crustaceans and other more exotic foods that are not eaten in childhood. With rare exceptions, reactions to fruits, vegetables, herbs and spices are due to chemical intolerance’s rather than allergies. Skin prick tests or blood tests (radioallergosorbent test or RAST) can detect IgE antibodies in people with allergies, but are of no value for diagnosis of intolerance’s.
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