June 12, 2019
Food allergies are quite common; 7% of Canadians claim to suffer from this type of allergy1. So what should people know about food allergies? Here are some key facts:
- Allergies are responses from our immune system. These reactions occur shortly after ingesting or coming into contact with particular substances, such as foods, medications, or venom (insect stings).
- Allergy symptoms can resemble those of an asthma attack: difficulty breathing, swelling, itching (hives), and even loss of consciousness. A severe reaction that poses a threat to someone’s life is called an anaphylactic shock; its symptoms include abdominal cramps, vomiting and diarrhea.
- Learn to make the distinction! A food intolerance is an adverse reaction from our body that can be slower to appear than an allergy and mainly affects our digestive system. An intolerance usually causes cramps, diarrhea, vomiting and bloating.2
- Substances that can cause allergic reactions are known as allergens. The most common food allergens are listed below and should be introduced into a child’s diet one by one to ensure they don’t trigger a reaction. Health Canada and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) have jointly released information on all priority food allergens; simply click on the allergen you wish to know more about.
- Allergies can be hereditary. A child whose parent suffers from an allergic disease (food, hay fever, asthma, eczema, etc.) is 30% more likely to develop one, even if the allergen is different. If both parents have allergies, the risk rises to 80%.3
- Good news! Sensitivity to an allergen can decrease over time. “The majority of children with allergies to milk, eggs, soya and wheat will see a resolution of their allergy, often before school age. In the case of peanuts (and possibly nuts), the chances of resolution are much less, approximately only 20% according to certain studies.”4
- Precautions to manage allergies:
- Avoid allergens! Read labels routinely and teach your children to do the same.
- Always wash your hands before eating.
- When eating out, always notify waiting staff about your allergy regardless of what you order (your plate might come in contact with the allergen in the kitchen).
- People with severe allergies should always carry an epinephrine auto-injector (EpiPen) with them. These are available with or without a prescription.5
- You can subscribe to Health Canada’s Food Allergies e-Notice to receive updates on the latest advice as well as regulatory and scientific developments in the field of food allergens and intolerances in Canada.6
1. L. Soller and al. Overall Prevalence of Self-reported Food Allergy in Canada, Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology (2012).