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Can food allergies be undiagnosed?

With food allergies on the rise in the past several years, you probably know at least one person who is allergic to cow’s milk, eggs, soy, wheat, nuts, or seafood. Individuals with a food allergy typically experience symptoms every time they eat a particular food. These symptoms range from relatively mild like hives and swelling to more severe such as coughing, vomiting, or loss of consciousness.

Unfortunately, there are no approved treatments for food allergies today. Individuals cope by avoiding the food and having proper medications nearby in case of an allergic reaction. As most children eventually outgrow some food allergies, it’s important to get tested for an accurate diagnosis.

To diagnose a food allergy, allergy specialists usually ...

Kids and lactose intolerance

Do you wonder if your child might have “lactose intolerance”?    Have you ever thought of removing dairy from your child’s diet?  If the answer to either of these questions is yes, here are a few things to remember when it comes to lactose intolerance in kids:

  • Lactose is broken down by lactase.

While lactose is the carbohydrate (sugar) found in milk, lactase is the enzyme that digests the sugar. This enzyme is found in the lining of the small intestine, breaks down lactose into simpler molecules that are easier to absorb.  When there isn’t enough lactase, the sugar isn’t properly absorbed, which leads to the symptoms of “intolerance”, which include gas, bloating, pain and diarrhea.

  • True lactose intolerance is rare in young children.

Although children as young as infants can “transiently” have less lactase in their digestive tracts (most often, this happens for a week or two after an infection), lactase production remains ...

Gluten intolerance or low FODMAPs?

Despite test results that show no evidence of their children having neither any detectable allergies to wheat nor any signs of celiac disease, many parents choose to have their children follow a gluten-free diet.  This is because of convincing stories of how gluten (a protein found in wheat and other grains) seems to cause their kids to have belly aches, nausea, bloating and a variety of other symptoms.  

For years, this was hard to explain without a scientific explanation.   Gastroenterologists like me had a hard time supporting families who wanted to follow gluten free diets, without a good “medical reason”.  Then, in 2011, researchers from Australia conducted a double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled, rechallenge trial in nearly 3 dozen patients (none of whom had celiac disease or wheat allergy), all of whom described worsening symptoms when unknowingly ingesting small amounts of gluten.  The results of this study described a condition termed, “Non-celiac gluten intolerance”.    It was after reading this landmark study that many physicians, including myself, began to validate parents’ concerns about gluten being the culprit behind their children’s gastrointestinal (GI) problems.

But then in 2013, just as word of non-celiac gluten intolerance was gaining popularity amongst physicians like me, the exact same group of researchers from Australia published a follow-up study on a similar set of about 3 dozen patients.  The findings of this 2nd study showed that instead...

Does your child have a food allergy or food sensitivity?

“Every time my child eats, his belly hurts. I think he must have a food allergy. Can you help us?”

Countless times have I heard this from parents of children worried about foods being the cause of their child’s gastrointestinal (GI) complaints. Some families wonder whether their child should start a “gluten-free” or other type of dietary change. More often than not, families have already tried a few diets before meeting with me.

Parents considering these types of elimination diets need to be aware of a few key points:
The difference between “food allergy” and “food sensitivity”:

Infants with Milk Allergy

A 4 week-old infant and his mother came to my office last week.  The mother had started seeing small flecks of blood and stringy mucous in the infant’s diapers a week prior.  The baby was fine in every other way, breast feeding normally, and looked quite healthy when I examined him.

I diagnosed the infant as having cow’s milk protein-induced proctocolitis, the term referring to allergic inflammation of the lower gastrointestinal tract from exposure to cow’s milk. 

This is a diagnosis I make often. Here's what you should know about infants with milk allergies:

  1. It’s more common than you think. 2-3% of infants in the U.S. are allergic to cow’s milk protein. It is even more common in infants with eczema or who have parents or siblings with allergies.
  2. It’s seen in breast fed babies.  Over 50% of infants with this condition are breast milk-fed infants.  But remember, the babies are allergic to the dairy in their moms’ diets, not to their mothers’ breast milk per se!
  3. Switching to soy or goat’s milk doesn’t work.  Over two-thirds of infants with cow’s milk protein allergy “cross-react” to soy protein (which means that they may not be truly allergic to soy protein, but their immune systems are just too “immature” to know the difference between the two).  Similarly, if a mother switches from drinking cow’s milk to goat’s milk, it won’t help, because the source is still a “different species”; the infant’s immune system will still respond to the “foreign” protein.
  4. Treatment takes time. The inflammation resolves when all traces of cow’s milk (and soy), are  removed from the infant’s diet.  In the case of formula-fed infants, we switch to special hypoallergenic formulas.  Typically after a successful switch, the bleeding stops within a week.  However, with breast fed infants, the improvement can be a little slower.  Since it can take up to 2 weeks for the dairy in a mother’s diet to circulate into her breast milk, the full effects may not been seen for up to a couple weeks.
  5. Allergy testing is not recommended.  The type of allergy that ...
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