Allergies can create a wide range of symptoms, and can be particularly frustrating - particularly if you don’t know what you’re allergic to.
Allergies can result in a wide range of symptoms, from hives to hay fever. Food allergies can be linked to many common health complaints including:
- Migraine - common triggers include dairy products, wheat, chocolate, eggs and oranges.
- Arthritis - many sufferers are sensitive to foods from the nightshade family, including potatoes, tomatoes, eggplant, capsicum and chilli; avoidance of these foods may improve symptoms in some people.
- Digestive complaints such as flatulence, diarrhoea, constipation or bloating can occur, as well as the fungal infection Candida (also known as thrush).
- Skin conditions such as dermatitis.
- Chronic fatigue syndrome.
- Crohn’s disease and irritable bowel syndrome: bowel conditions which cause symptoms such as diarrhoea and cramping pain, commonly related to stress and allergies.
- Children can suffer with food allergies from a very young age - conditions such as colic, conjunctivitis, ADD and recurrent ear infections are commonly caused or worsened by underlying food intolerance.
An allergy occurs after you have come into contact with a substance you are allergic to (called an allergen). The most common forms of contact are:
- Dietary (eating a food which your body is intolerant of or sensitive to).
- Inhaled (when the allergen is present in the air you breathe - such as pollen).
- Contact allergies (when your skin is sensitive to a substance which touches it, such as dishwashing liquid or jewelry).
One of the most reliable ways of pinpointing food allergens is by keeping a food and symptom diary. Make sure you write down everything you eat over a period of several weeks, as well as the symptoms you experience. Over time, you may be able to see a pattern developing and come to understand whether your symptoms are triggered or aggravated by eating certain foods. Bear in mind that some symptoms may take up to 48 hours to develop after the allergen has been eaten.
Avoid commonly allergic foods such as chocolate, milk, cheese, eggs, wheat, gluten (a protein found in wheat and other grains), artificial flavourings and colourings, and peanut butter. For natural therapies to relieve the symptoms listed above, check the specific condition e.g. migraine.
Other than food, different factors in the environment can trigger many types of allergic reactions. From dust mite to dry cleaning fluids, pollution to pollen, the environment can be hazardous to those sensitive to certain factors.
If your hay fever or sinusitis occurs at the same time of year, every year, it is likely that you are allergic to pollen or other plant matter that is present in the air during that season. Post-nasal drip and headache may also indicate that you are inhaling a substance to which you are allergic.
Contact allergies normally take the form of skin conditions, such as dermatitis, which occur on the area of the skin that has been exposed to the allergen. If you are exposed to chemicals during the course of your work, you may develop a contact allergen. This is very common amongst hairdressers, dishwashers and those working with industrial chemicals. Protective clothing such as gloves should be used whenever possible.
Once you have an idea of which foods you are allergic to, avoid them strictly for a period of two weeks and continue to record your symptoms. After this time, challenge your body by eating a small portion of the food, and observe whether the symptoms return or worsen.
Many people find that after the re-introduction of the food, their symptoms are stronger than they were before.
If your allergy symptoms are severe and have improved during the time that you have avoided the culprit food, you may choose not to do the food challenge, but to continue strict avoidance.
As the symptoms may be worse after the food challenge, this policy applies to children and asthmatics in particular.