Nine food allergy myths debunked by an expert

  • There are a lot of misconceptions around food allergies.
  • Food allergies are a lot less common in adults then you might think.
  • Paediatrician and allergologist Professor Claudia Gray helped Health24 debunk some myths.

Whether it's peanuts, shellfish or dairy, food allergies can be a real problem, leaving you at risk of being hospitalised.

But food allergies aren't as common as you might think. Allergies to food only affect between 1% and 3% of the population and are more common in children.

Health24 talked to paediatrician Professor Claudia Gray, an expert allergologist from the Kids Allergy Centre at Life Vincent Pallotti Hospital in Cape Town, to debunk some myths around food allergies.

READ | Food allergy vs. food intolerance 

Eating too much of something can cause an allergy

False: Technically this is not possible, but overindulgence can lead to gastrointestinal discomfort, which can lead to an aversion to certain foods.

All childhood allergies are outgrown

False: Not all childhood allergies persist into adulthood. Dairy, egg, soy and wheat allergies tend to disappear, but allergies to seafood, peanuts and other tree nus are only outgrown in 10 to 20% of cases.

"Some allergies, including nut, seafood and preservative allergies and the so-called 'cross-reactivity' syndromes – such as fruit and vegetable allergies occurring in pollen-allergic patients, can actually start in the adult years," says Gray.

You can be allergic to any food

True: Technically, you can be allergic to anything you consume, however some allergies are far more common than others.

"There may also be some geographical variations, depending on local food trends. For example, mustard allergy is common in France, while sesame allergy is more common in Israel."

READ MORE | What should you do if you suspect you might have a food allergy? 

You can build up immunity to an allergy

True: Gray explains that this can be done by consuming products that have been "broken down" into other components, like baked goods in the case of dairy and egg allergies. It can also be done as part of a deliberate medical procedure called desensitisation.

Desensitisation should only be done under the guidance of an allergy specialist because even small amounts of the offending substance could be dangerous.

These methods only lead to a permanent cure in a small minority of allergy sufferers and most of the time, children outgrow their food allergies.

Food allergies can cause ADHD and other disorders

False: While allergies can cause various issues, such as skin rashes, vomiting, respiratory issues and even a heart attack, they do not cause ADHD, migraines, arthritis or chronic fatigue. 

In some cases, allergies can worsen asthma or eczema, while coeliac disease (gluten intolerance) isn't classically considered an allergy.

The EpiPen can be dangerous

False: "Epinephrine is the treatment of choice for severe food allergy reactions and anaphylaxis," explains Gray.

"It is actually a natural chemical which we release every day in response to frights or nerves, so in essence, given into the thigh muscle at the correct dosage for the patient, it is not dangerous and could be life-saving."

READ | Can food allergies put your child at greater risk of developing Covid-19 complications?

True food allergies aren't that common

True: In the bigger picture, Gray says that in South Africa, only 2.5% to 3% of children suffer from food allergies. However, that means at least one or two children in a grade will suffer from one allergy or another, which remains a large number.

You can inherit food allergies from your parents

True: While your chances of food allergies are higher if they run in the family, environmental and nutritional factors play an important role in whether these genes are activated. 

"Therefore, if your parent or sibling has a particular food allergy, you will have a greater chance of developing that food allergy than the general population, yet this chance is usually still under 10%," adds Gray.

You can trust an allergy test 100%

False: There are possibilities of false negatives, and results of tests need to be interpreted by an expert in the context of the patient's reaction histories and other food allergy patterns.

"Time and time again, we see patients on a complicated exclusion diet based on a blood test result – when they have tolerated those particular foods before – and are actually not truly allergic to them."

WATCH | Food allergies - sensitivity on the rise? 

Image credit: Pexels

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