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  • Was It Something You Ate? Food Allergies and Intolerances

  • Robert Klein, MD
    Robert Klein, MD

    Q&A with Robert Klein, MD, director of the Asthma and Allergy Center at Hasbro Children's Hospital

    Do you or your family members avoid certain foods because you react adversely to them? Do you wonder if you have food allergies and if you can be tested for them? If so, you are certainly not alone.

    What is the best way to diagnose a food allergy or intolerance?

    I recommend keeping a diary of everything you eat for one to two weeks and the symptoms experienced. Include how long after eating these foods the reactions seem to occur. This information, along with a physical examination and laboratory tests, will be helpful in determining if a food is causing your symptoms. There are two basic tests for allergic food reactions: the prick skin test or a blood test such as the RAST (radioallergosorbent test). A prick skin test is usually the simplest and least expensive method and can be done in a doctor's office. If a person is allergic to a substance, a wheal (a mosquito-bite-like bump) will form at the site of the prick within about fifteen minutes. The RAST test requires a blood sample that is sent to a medical laboratory. Results usually return within fourteen days. All results need to be correlated with symptoms to see if they are related or causal.

    What is the best treatment for a food allergy?

    In general, strict avoidance of the allergy-causing food is the only way to stop a reaction. Label reading is important for a person with food allergies. For example, cow's milk can appear on labels as "curds, whey, caseine or lactalbumin." One needs to be instructed as to the reading of food labels depending on his or her specific allergy. The help of a registered dietician can be invaluable to people with food allergies or intolerance. In general, increased knowledge will help people control their allergies.

    Is there a cure for food allergies?

    Currently, there are no curative medications; strict avoidance is the only way to prevent a reaction. Most people outgrow their food allergies, although allergies to peanuts, nuts, fish and shellfish are often considered lifelong problems.

    Much more information is available from your doctor, particularly an allergist, or a dietician. A particularly good reference would be the food allergy network which can be reached on line at www.foodallergy.org.

    Tips for living with a food allergy or intolerance