How to Treat Food Allergies (7 Different Treatments)
Quick Summary of How To Treat Food Allergies:
3. Oral Immunotherapy
4. Sublingual Immunotherapy
5. Epicutaneous Immunotherapy
6. Subcutaneous Immunotherapy
7. Allergen Avoidance
There are a surprising amount of treatment types when it comes to food allergies. An Epi Pen injection is certainly the most common, but there are more. This article will provide an introduction to pharmacological and preventative treatments related to food allergies.
First Things First: The Basics of How To Treat Food Allergies
The severity of allergic reactions vary from person to person. Reactions are often unpredictable and surprising, even when proper precautions are taken. Not only that, but the severity of one incident typically does not predict the severity of the next. Food-allergic persons often live in a perpetual state of caution, particularly if their allergy is severe.
It goes without saying that the best way to avoid any kind of allergic reaction is to abstain from your allergen. There are a variety of calculated ways that you can go about this. We’ll go through some of these in the latter half of this article. It seems simple, but depending on the allergen it can be more difficult than some might think.
The most important thing for those with food allergies to remember is always be prepared. Have your portable treatments on-hand at all times. You never know when you’re going to need them.
Alright. Let’s dig further into how to treat food allergies. We’ll start with pharmacological treatments.
How To Treat Food Allergies: Pharmacological Treatments
What’s meant by pharmacological is a treatment that can be acquired with a doctor’s prescription or one that can be purchased at a store. An allergist, pediatrician, or another medical professional can prescribe the product that’s best for your (or your loved one’s) situation. Pharmacological treatments are typically not preventative in nature. They treat the symptoms of an allergic reaction.
As you would expect from its name, an antihistamine blocks or reduces histamines. A histamine is a chemical that is produced when the body comes in contact with a harmful allergen. It’s what causes your eyes to run, your nose to swell, and your mouth to itch (or whatever mild reaction you’re prone to).
The names of popular antihistamine products may sound familiar to you: Claritin, Allegra, Benadryl, Zyrtek, Optivar. These capsules, nose sprays, and eyedrops typically work quite well in relieving itches, swelling, even rashes and hives. They aren’t a cure-all for all allergy symptoms. But for many people with seasonal allergies to grass, pollen, etc, a generic bottle of antihistamines is all they need.
Food-allergic folks, on the other hand, often need something stronger than a simple antihistamine. This is because itchy eyes and runny noses are considered mild allergy symptoms. Reactions to food allergies tend to be a bit more serious and usually get categorized as moderate or severe allergic reactions. However, antihistamines are very effective for people who have mild food allergies.
Food allergy symptoms that are more than mild can include sudden difficulty swallowing and/or breathing, diarrhea, throwing up, and wheezing. The most severe reaction is referred to as anaphylaxis or anaphylactic shock. This is when your body is completely overwhelmed after coming in contact with an allergen that it essentially goes into shock. This is life-threatening. An Epi-Pen injection must take place immediately – not a second wasted.
For those with moderate-to-severe food allergies, epinephrine works far better than antihistamines and is, quite frankly, indispensable. Most people associate the Epi-Pen with food allergy treatment. Anyone with a serious food allergy is familiar with these injections as they’ve become the go-to solution for allergic reactions. Epi-Pens have become synonymous with how to treat food allergies.
Epinephrine and adrenaline are one and the same. These injections work incredibly well to treat serious food allergy reactions. They accomplish four helpful tasks simultaneously. First, they constrict blood vessels which relieves swelling and gets blood pressure up. Second, it elevates heart rate which all but eliminates any risk of heart collapse. Third, it relaxes and opens up airway muscles. Fourth, it stops histamine creation so the reaction doesn’t spread.
Never Leave Home Without It
People whose food allergies result in these serious kinds of reactions must never be without their syringes. And a visit to the hospital should always be in order after an event where an injection was necessary. It’s best to get medical attention afterward to make sure the reaction doesn’t flare up.
How To Treat Food Allergies: Preventative Treatments
Immunotherapy: What Is It?
It’s a process designed to get the body used to an allergen. A very small amount of the allergen is used to trigger a small response. Repeated and controlled exposure to tiny amounts over the course of several years can lessen the allergen’s effect. But there have been cases where immunotherapy has eliminated the allergic reaction entirely.
In professional food allergy circles, immunotherapy is still considered experimental and is not yet standard treatment. However, much research has been done and is on-going. Many immunotherapy treatments have yielded successful results. If you’re interested in participating in these types of treatments, talk to your doctor.
Some refer to immunotherapy as desensitization therapy. There are a handful of ways that doctors administer these food allergy treatments. They are as follows: orally (mouth), sublingually (under the tongue), epicutaneously (on the skin), and subcutaneously (under the skin).
Inviting traces of an allergen into your body by swallowing a pill may sound scary. However, oral immunotherapy trials have mostly delivered positive results. The issue is that the side effect risk is high compared to most immunotherapy methods.
Administering small traces of an allergen by placing it under the tongue has worked quite well. It has a high success rate similar to oral treatments. The only concern with sublingual immunotherapy is that effects are often temporary. In order to maintain the benefits of the treatment, you have to continue them interminably.
This is accomplished by administering a skin patch. The patch acts as an alternative to allergy shots. It delivers the allergen into the body without puncturing the skin. This is the most recent form of immunotherapy and has the least amount of data accumulated. So far, side effects appear milder than subcutaneous methods, but more research is needed.
Note: subcutaneous immunotherapy is not currently used to treat food allergies. It was, at one point, a common method of treatment in food allergy research. This is due to the high risk involved and severe side effects. It is now primarily used as an immunotherapy treatment for environmental allergies, seasonal allergies, and insect stings.
Allergy shots have the longest history of studied use of the four immunotherapy methods. Results have been mixed overall. It can be very risky to inject an allergen directly into the bloodstream, but the potential for substantial data is highest with this treatment.
As mentioned at the beginning of the article, how to treat food allergies is best approached by avoiding your allergen. The two main topics to be addressed here are customized diets and cross-reactions.
Talk to your doctor about your particular allergen and ask for her help in creating an avoidance diet. It’s imperative that you learn all about what foods you need to avoid. A person allergic to cow’s milk must abstain from a lot more than a simple glass of milk. A basic study of food composition is in order.
If you feel it’s necessary, consult a dietitian. They can help with understanding how to treat food allergies, including how to read food labels. In the end, the easier you can make your avoidance diet, the better off you’ll be. This is why understanding the correct information is crucial.
Understanding how foods cross-react is essential to creating your customized diet. Cross-reaction typically occurs among foods that share the same food group. For example, crawfish, lobster, crab, and shrimp are all crustaceans. This means that a person allergic to shellfish needs to abstain from all of these. They all share the same allergenic properties.
Furthermore, a person allergic to cow’s milk often (but not always) must abstain from other types of milk. Goat’s milk, sheep’s milk, and the milk of other mammals tend to be off-limits in many cases. This is called cross-reacting and influences how to treat food allergies.
However, this doesn’t occur in every food group. It’s common for a person allergic to fish to only be allergic to one or two species. A fish-allergic person may discover that certain fish are completely fine for them to eat. In most cases, though, a person allergic to fish simply abstains from all fish to avoid risk.
People allergic to peanuts are often also allergic to similar foods, such as legumes. Soybeans are a common culprit here. However, every person can be unique in their own food allergy. Even a severe allergy to say, peanuts, doesn’t always mean a person has to stay away from even other nuts. A food allergy can be strictly limited to one specific food. Or, cross-reaction can take effect and the allergy can encompass many similar foods.
How to treat food allergies can be different depending on the person’s biology, allergic reaction history, and other factors.
Essentially, the pivotal message concerning how to treat food allergies is to be prepared and to be safe. Have a simple plan and adhere to it. Having a food allergy does not need to be a drastically life-altering condition. As long as you educate yourself properly regarding your own allergy, it shouldn’t take much to stay safe.
How to Treat Food Allergies (7 Different Treatments)
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