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Allergy Misdiagnosis – Facts & Fads

Baby watermelonWhile awareness of allergies and intolerances is growing, which can definitely be perceived as a positive thing, there are also some downsides showing up. Following the recent publication of their guide to allergies, the organisation Sense About Science has highlighted the problems with potential over diagnosis by parents. They also discuss the rising use of tests which are not currently backed by evidence, leading to misdiagnosis.

Yes, allergies are on the rise due to numerous potential reasons, but if you are worried about you or your child professional advice should always be sought and a proper diagnosis reached. Confusion surrounding the difference between food allergies and intolerances seems to be an underlying factor.

Quick recap: difference between allergies and intolerances

Food allergies are when the immune system mistakenly treats a certain food as if it were a threat, causing the allergic response. Allergic reactions can vary from being mild to very serious, the worst potentially causing anaphylaxis and death. Symptoms include rashes, swelling, and tightening of the chest.

Food intolerance, on the other hand, occurs when the body is not able to digest certain ingredients contained in food, e.g. lactose in dairy products. Symptoms tend to occur several hours after consuming the food and include stomach cramps, bloating and diarrhoea.

Problems arising from misdiagnosis

  • Malnutrition: This was one of the main points discussed recently. The food groups commonly excluded due to allergies or intolerances are otherwise a good source of nutrients for those who can safely consume them e.g. dairy is one of the main sources of calcium in the average diet.  Adequate nutrition is essential at any stage, but especially for a growing child, and cutting out food groups is never recommended unless there is a specific reason and the individual is aware they need to get important nutrients from alternative sources.
  • Impact on other aspects of life: For instance, children with allergies may have to have different food from other children in some circumstances, potentially affecting their school and social life – not something that you’d want to have to do if it’s not necessary.
  • Allergies taken less seriously by food providers: It can be confusing for restaurants if someone is stating they have an allergy but it is more like an intolerance, or they just want to avoid that food. These mixed messages can potentially be damaging to the opinion food providers have, and they may not take issues like cross-contamination as seriously.

 

Medical

 

Steps to take if you think you or your child is allergic

  • Always get tested by your GP or other specialist in allergies. There are a variety of tests available but only a few are considered valid, accurate and evidence-based. The two tests commonly used by health professionals are the skin prick test and the specific IgE blood test. Avoid tests available over the internet or through alternative practitioners. The British Dietetic Association has produced a more detailed breakdown of the various tests, which is available here
  • Work with a dietitian to learn how to manage the allergy while still ensuring nutritional needs are met.
  • Only restrict foods where absolutely necessary e.g. confirmed allergy. Those with intolerances can still usually consume small amounts, and it won’t have a dangerous effect (though of course it is still important to manage properly as it can seriously affect quality of life).

Unfortunately, getting an accurate diagnosis can be a long process, which is understandably frustrating for a concerned parent who wants their child to be healthy and happy. However, getting the correct information will be much more beneficial in the long run, both for the child concerned and others with allergies so these issues can be taken seriously and treated appropriately.

If you have any questions or worries about allergies, intolerances or coeliac disease, Food Freedom are here to help, so please don’t hesitate to get in touch at info@food-freedom.co.uk.

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