What you need to know about allergies

Nida

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Allergies are nothing to sneeze about. We speak to general practitioner Dr Benjamin Loh about the common causes, treatments, and in particular, how to deal with food allergies

Nobody likes having allergies. It’s an uncomfortable inconvenience for most of us, and a potentially fatal occurrence for a few. Instead of just sneezing the problem away, there are ways to detect the triggers and deal with the symptoms.

Dr Benjamin Loh, a general practitioner with a special interest in allergy, ear, nose and throat, and dermatology, shares how one can manage both food and inhalant allergies by taking a multidisciplinary, holistic approach to one’s health.

Are flu symptoms and dust mite allergy symptoms the same?
Contrary to popular belief, they are not identical despite sharing some similarities. Dust mite allergy – one of the most common allergies – can cause uncomfortable symptoms such as sneezing, teary eyes and a runny nose. If you are having a flu, you might have fever, chills and a loss of taste and smell. Some patients with Covid-19 might also experience nausea, body aches, diarrhea and vomiting.

How is dust mite allergy treated?
Symptom management is vital for treating dust mite allergy. Decongestants, antihistamines and corticosteroids help provide temporary relief. Currently, immunotherapy where we repeatedly introduce allergens into the body so that it becomes desensitised, and sublingual immunotherapy where allergens are introduced under the tongue, are viewed as potential treatments for grass, pollen and dust mite allergies.

Photo: iStock

What about food allergies?
A food allergy occurs when the immune system goes into overdrive after coming into contact with a particular food, compound or protein that it perceives as a threat. Current statistics reveal that six to eight percent of children and up to five percent of adults are affected by a food allergy. While all foods are potential allergens, some foods are more notorious for triggering allergic reactions, including shellfish, peanuts, eggs, soybeans, certain fruits and tree nuts.
Food allergies and food intolerance are often mistakenly used interchangeably. Food intolerance tends to affect the digestive system whereas food allergy is usually an overreaction of the immune system. A food allergy can be fatal, potentially causing anaphylaxis if not treated immediately.
How can we determine if we have food allergies?
Food allergies can be diagnosed by doing a food allergy test to determine what foods one is allergic to, specifically a skin prick test or a blood test. Currently, the only practical treatment option for food allergies is to undergo allergy testing to avoid symptom-triggering foods.
For the skin prick test, a possible allergen is placed on the pierced forearm skin and observed for a reaction. A positive response manifests as itchiness, swelling or redness in the test area. However, the Immunoglobulin E (IgE) blood test is recommended for persons who have had life- threatening allergic responses in the past or who suffer from severe eczema and psoriasis.
Is it possible to outgrow a food allergy?
Yes, it is possible. Children can outgrow allergies to soy, milk, wheat and eggs. However, fewer children outgrow tree nut and peanut allergies, and adults are unlikely to outgrow an allergy that they developed as an adult.

Tips for managing food allergies effectively

– Always check ingredient labels carefully before buying the food item.

– Find out what your food allergens are and avoid them.

– Stay away from a restrictive diet during pregnancy or while breastfeeding.

– Always carry an emergency epi-pen if you have a serious food allergy.

For more information about allergy testing and treatments, visit here or or schedule an appointment at Dr Ben Medical located at 1 Raffles Place, #04-50. Call 888-12344 or email contact@drbenmedical.sg.

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