Food allergies are a serious medical condition because they can cause life-threatening symptoms. Even so, many people believe half-truths or have misunderstandings about food allergies. Here are some of the more frequently repeated myths and the truth debunking them.
Myth: Food allergies are not caused by environmental factors
Fact: A recent study published in the Annals of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology found that high levels of dichlorophenols, a chemical used to treat water, is linked to food allergies when found in a person’s body. The chemical is found in tap water, pesticides, and insect- and weed-killing products. Researchers analyzed data of 10,438 people in the United States and found that dichlorophenols was found in the urine of 2,548 people. From that group, 2,211 were further studied. Results showed that 411 of those people had a food allergy and 1,016 of them had an environmental allergy.
Researchers hypothesize that the growing environmental pollution is contributing to food allergies. Unfortunately, they say giving up tap water for bottled water may not solve the problem, as many fruits and vegetables are coated with the same pesticide chemical.
** [SLIDESHOW**: 10 Things to Know About Food Allergies in the Classroom]
Myth: You can’t outgrow a food allergy
Fact: Children can, and usually do, outgrow their allergies to egg, milk and soy. Allergies to peanuts are not typically outgrown. The most common food allergies in infants and children are egg, milk, peanut, tree nut, soy and wheat.
A recent study found that about half of children will outgrow their egg allergies. Researchers determined that 56 percent of egg allergic kids could tolerate hen’s eggs when they are baked at 350 degrees in cakes and breads. They also concluded that about 55 percent of kids will outgrow their egg allergy entirely. In another study, the same lead investigator found that out of the eight most common food allergies, children were most likely to outgrow an egg allergy by age 7, followed by milk. But, if a child has had a severe reaction to eggs in the past, they are less likely to outgrow it.
Myth: You can’t develop food allergies after childhood
Fact: Actually, you can develop a food allergy at any age, though they generally develop during childhood. If you develop a food allergy as an adult, you are more likely to have the allergy for life. The most common food allergies in adults are shellfish, peanuts, tree nuts and fish. According to the NIH, it’s also important to note that foods that are eaten regularly in a country or culture increase the likelihood that a person will develop allergies to that food. For instance, rice allergies are more common in Japan than the United States, and codfish allergy is found more frequently in Scandinavia than the United States.
Myth: Celiac disease, gluten intolerance and lactose intolerance are food allergies
Fact: First of all, celiac disease and gluten intolerance are not the same thing. Celiac disease is a gluten hypersensitivity that causes severe intestinal inflammation, while gluten intolerance does not. A gluten intolerance will cause discomfort until the food passes, but does not cause long-term inflammation. Celiac triggers an IgA antibody to attack the small intestine, which disrupts normal function, but it’s not the same antibody that triggers allergies and the release of histamine. True food allergies cause the body to produce IgE antibodies, which release histamine and other allergy-related chemicals. This is what causes risk of allergic shock, throat swelling and full body itching.
Like gluten intolerance, lactose intolerance is not a food allergy. Upset stomach and bowels will be fine after the dairy product passes through.
Myth: The percentage of people with food allergies in the United States is dropping
Fact: According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, between 1997 and 2007, food allergies increased by 18 percent in the United States. Another report published in Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology found that 7.5 million Americans have at least one food allergy, with young black children running the highest risk.
n.p. (2012, December 3). “Pesticides In Tap Water Responsible For Food Allergy Increase.” Medical News Today. Retrieved from http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/253513.php
n.p. (2012, November 12). “New Research Finds Half Of Children Outgrow Egg Allergy.” Medical News Today. Retrieved from http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/releases/252618.php
n.p. (2012, March 6). “Common Food Allergies in Infants, Children, and Adults.”National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. Retrieved from http://www.niaid.nih.gov/topics/foodAllergy/understanding/Pages/foodAllergy8Allergens.aspx
Thompson, M.D., James. (2010, June 2). “Gluten Allergy, Gluten Hypersensitivity and Celiac Disease: Are They All the Same? HealthCentral. Retrieved from http://www.healthcentral.com/allergy/c/3989/111899/hypersensitivity