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Understanding food allergies

Some people are able to outgrow or tolerate their food allergy
Posted at 7:56 AM, Mar 15, 2022
and last updated 2022-03-15 09:06:50-04

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — 32 million Americans live with food allergies, with someone sent to the emergency room every three minutes for a bad reaction. It’s a condition some people are lucky enough to outgrow or tolerate. How did this happen and how do food allergies even work? We took a closer look at this with Grand Rapids Allergy.

One in ten adults and one in thirteen children deal with food allergies in the United States, sending 200,000 people to the emergency room each year according to Our bodies have an antibody called IGE which chooses to not like whatever food you can not tolerate.

"What happens is when you eat the food, your body decides that there's this foreign substance that it needs to attack, and it does that using the IGE antibody," said Dr. Sarah Uekert, Grand Rapids allergist.

Food allergies need to be taken seriously as reactions happen rather quickly inducing itchiness, swelling, breaking out in hives and more. "And then it can go to the further extremes of coughing, choking, wheezing, vomiting, diarrhea or full anaphylaxis where your blood pressure drops. And that's potentially life-threatening," said Uekert.

Milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, wheat, soy, fish and shellfish or the 8 leading food allergies in the United States. Epinephrine is a treatment to stop these life-threatening reactions, becoming a patient’s best friend immediately giving a synthetic form of our body's adrenaline.

"What epinephrine does is it squeezes the blood vessels so that your blood pressure goes back up again and that's the life-saving component of epinephrine. It also relaxes the muscles in the lungs, which are all tight from wheezing," said Uekert.

These reactions can be extremely scary but for some fortunate people there’s hope… hope to grow out or become tolerant of their food allergy. "Some food allergy can resolve in milk and egg allergy up to about 80% may resolve with time or at least become partially tolerant. With nut allergy, it's a little less likely closer to 20%," said Uekert.

Candace Monacelli is one of the lucky people in that 20%, discovering this by safely going through skin and blood tests, plus finally taking on a food challenge. After successfully passing a food challenge, doctors recommend patients continue eating the food you were allergic to, sometimes for years, to maintain their tolerance over time. Why or how the IGE antibody disappears to make this possible still isn't fully understood as research continues.

Grand Rapids Allergy can't stress enough how important it is to have an allergist and take food allergies seriously as it can be life or death.