Food allergy is defined as an adverse immunologic response to a food protein. Although approximately 19% of adults in the US have a perceived adverse reaction to food, only 10.8% have a convincing history of true food allergy, according to a cross-sectional survey study. In a separate study of US households, approximately 11% of children were perceived by their parents to have a food allergy, but only 7.6% had a convincing history of true food allergy.
People who believe they have a food allergy may suffer from a metabolic intolerance to a particular food; for example, lactose intolerance. Others may be sensitive to a particular pharmacologically active component of food such as caffeine or tyramine. Some people may mistake bacterial food poisoning as a reaction to a particular food. Although all of these scenarios involve food, they do not result from an abnormal immune response to a particular food protein and therefore cannot be considered a true food allergy. Rather, some of them, such as lactose intolerance and sucrase-isomaltase deficiency, are considered nonimmune food intolerances, and others, such as tyramine and sulfite reactions, are considered nonimmune food sensitivities.
It is important that people with suspected food allergy are investigated and followed up appropriately so that they do not unnecessarily avoid food and impair their quality of life.
Food allergies can be classified into disorders that are IgE-mediated, cell-mediated, or a combination of the two.
IgE-mediated food allergies result from abnormal sensitization to a food allergen that results in specific IgE production. However, a positive skin prick test or IgE test on its own does not indicate that a patient has a food allergy; it only means that they are sensitized to a food. Only the history or an oral food challenge can identify true food allergens. Once produced, food-specific IgE binds onto mast cells. When the particular food is subsequently ingested, the food is broken down and absorbed. The food antigen then binds to the IgE on the mast cells leading to mast-cell degranulation and release of mediators that cause the signs and symptoms of the allergic reaction. IgE-mediated food disorders include anaphylaxis and oral allergy syndrome.
Cell-mediated reactions involve T cells and may occur several hours to days after ingesting the offending food. Food protein-induced enterocolitis, enteropathy, proctocolitis, and celiac disease are examples of cell-mediated food-allergic diseases.
Mixed IgE- and cell-mediated food diseases include atopic dermatitis and the eosinophilic gastroenteropathies such as eosinophilic esophagitis.
Nonimmune food intolerances often result from deficiencies in the enzyme that breaks down the food component into absorbable substrates in the small intestine.
Nonimmune food sensitivities to biogenic amines (such as tyramine) or to food additives (such as monosodium glutamate) are more controversial and are debated vigorously in the literature. However, sensitivities to sulfites found in foods such as red wine and dried fruit have been confirmed as a trigger of bronchospasm in sulfite-sensitive asthmatic patients.
- Oral allergy syndrome
- Atopic dermatitis
- Food protein-induced proctocolitis
- Celiac disease
- Lactose intolerance
- Food-induced anaphylaxis
- Food-dependent exercise-induced anaphylaxis
- Eosinophilic esophagitis
- Food protein-induced enterocolitis
- Congenital sucrase isomaltase deficiency
- Monosodium glutamate (MSG) reactions
- Tyramine reactions
- Sulfite sensitivity
- Galactose-alpha-1,3-galactose (alpha-gal) allergy (tick borne)
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