The goals of treatment are to reduce symptoms and avoid future allergic reactions. Some allergists prescribe desensitization therapies such as allergy shots. Once you are aware of the allergy, the best way to avoid a reaction is by not eating trigger food. Treatment at the time of a reaction varies according to the severity and type of symptoms. Mild symptoms may go away without treatment. Doctors generally recommend over-the-counter or prescription antihistamines to relieve mild itching, swelling, rash, runny nose, or headache. Soothing skin creams may provide some relief of rashes. Severe allergic reactions (anaphylactic shock) can come on suddenly and accelerate quickly. In this case, emergency treatment is needed. In some instances, survival may depend on an injection of epinephrine (adrenaline). Food allergy sufferers routinely learn to self administer epinephrine, which may save their life. Avoiding the offending food is the best way to prevent future allergic reactions.
Avoid offending foods. Read all package ingredients carefully (many foods are processed with peanuts, eggs, or milk products, such as whey). Call ahead when eating out. Take your own food with you on trips.
If you have a history of anaphylactic shock, you should keep a preloaded syringe of epinephrine with you. Your doctor will teach you and a close family member how to use it should the need arise. You should wear a medical bracelet or necklace indicating your particular food allergies.
Antihistamines are recommended for mild itching, swelling, rash, runny nose, or headache. They are available both by prescription and over the counter in many cold, sinus, and allergy remedies. These include diphenhydramine (Benadryl), cetirizine (Zyrtec), clemastine (Tavist), chlorpheniramine (Chlor Trimeton), desloratadine, fexofenadine (Allegra), hydroxyzine (Atarax), and loratadine (Claritin). Possible side effects include drowsiness, irritability, dry mouth, and heart palpitations.
Skin creams can help soothe rashes.
Epinephrine injection is used to prevent anaphylactic shock. If you have a food allergy that causes a serious reaction, your doctor will have you carry an injectable epinepherine pen and teach you, and those with whom you spend a lot of time, how to use it in an emergency.
Nutrition and Dietary Supplements
Although you should avoid foods that provoke an allergic reaction, you do not need to restrict variety in your diet. Studies show that the vast majority of people are allergic to only one or two foods. However, you should be aware of the families of foods to which you are allergic. For example, if you are allergic to walnuts, you may also be allergic to pecans and almonds. An allergy to shrimp may also indicate an allergy to crab.
Following these nutritional tips may help reduce symptoms:
- Eliminate all suspected food allergens, including dairy, wheat (gluten), soy, chocolate, corn, preservatives and food additives. Your health care provider may want to test for food sensitivities.
- Eat more antioxidant-rich foods (such as green leafy vegetables) and fruits (such as blueberries, pomegranates, and cherries).
- Avoid refined foods, such as white breads, pastas, and sugar.
- Eat more lean meats and cold-water fish.
- Use healthy cooking oils, such as olive oil.
- Reduce or eliminate trans fatty acids, found in commercially-baked goods, such as cookies, crackers, cakes, French fries, onion rings, donuts, processed foods, and margarine.
- Avoid excessive use of coffee and avoid other stimulants, alcohol, and tobacco.
- Drink 6 to 8 glasses of filtered water daily.
- Exercise moderately at least 30 minutes daily, 5 days a week.
You may address nutritional deficiencies with the following supplements:
- A multivitamin daily, containing the antioxidant vitamins A, C, E, the B complex vitamins, and trace minerals such as magnesium, calcium, zinc, and selenium.
- Omega-3 fatty acids, such as fish oil, 1 to 2 capsules or 1 tablespoonfuls oil, 1 to 3 times daily, to help decrease inflammation and boost immunity. Cold-water fish, such as salmon or halibut, are good sources, but are not substitutes for supplementation. Patients on blood-thinning medications or with bleeding disorders should take fish oil only under the supervision of a doctor.
- Vitamin C, 500 to 1,000 mg, 1 to 3 times daily, as an antioxidant and for immune support.
- L-glutamine, 500 to 1,000 mg, 3 times daily, for support of gastrointestinal health and immunity. There is a chance that people who are sensitive to monosodium glutamate may also be sensitive to L-glutamine. L-glutamine may increase the risk of mania or seizures in susceptible patients.
- Probiotic supplement (containing Lactobacillus acidophilus), 5 to 10 billion CFUs (colony forming units) a day, when needed for maintenance of gastrointestinal and immune health. Some products may require refrigeration -- check labels carefully. People who are severely immunocompromised or on immunosuppressive drugs should check with their doctor before starting a probiotic.
Herbs are generally available as standardized, dried extracts (pills, capsules, or tablets), teas, or tinctures or liquid extracts (alcohol extraction, unless otherwise noted). Mix liquid extracts with favorite beverage. Dose for teas is 1 to 2 heaping teaspoonfuls in a cup of water steeped for 10 to 15 minutes (roots need longer). People who have a blood disorder or who are taking blood-thinning medications should only take herbs under the supervision of a doctor since some herbs may have blood-thinning effects. Herbs can have potentially interact with a number of medications and potentially have negative side effects in certain conditions. Work with a knowledgeable prescriber and keep all of your health care providers informed about the herbs and supplements you're considering using.
- Green tea (Camelia sinensis) standardized extract, 250 to 500 mg daily, for inflammation, and for antioxidant and immune effects. Use caffeine-free products. You may also prepare teas from the leaf of this herb. Green tea can potentially interact with a number of medications, including birth control pills and antibiotics. Speak with your physician.
- Bromelain (Ananus comosus) standardized, 40 mg, 3 times daily, for inflammation. Bromelain has anticoagulant effects. It should not be combined with other blood-thinning medications or used with people with bleeding disorders. It may interact with certain medications, including some antibiotics. People with allergies to pineapple, wheat, celery, carrot, papain, fennel, pollens, and cypress may have cross-reactivity with bromelain.
- Turmeric (Curcuma longa) standardized extract, 300 mg, 3 times a day, for inflammation. Tumeric has a powerful anticoagulant effect and should not be combined with other blood-thinning medications or used by people with bleeding disorders.
- Cat's claw (Uncaria tomentosa) standardized extract, 20 mg, 3 times a day, for inflammation. Contraindicated in leukemia and autoimmune disorders. Can interact with many medications, including blood pressure medication.
The American Academy of Medical Acupuncture endorses the use of acupuncture for allergies such as food allergies. Acupuncture can help restore normal immune function.
Although few studies have examined the effectiveness of specific homeopathic therapies, professional homeopaths may consider individualized remedies for the treatment of food allergy based on their knowledge and experience. Before prescribing a remedy, homeopaths take into account a person's constitutional type -- your physical, emotional, and intellectual makeup. An experienced homeopath assesses all of these factors when determining the most appropriate remedy for a particular individual.
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