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Living with food allergies
Millions of people around the world suffer from food allergies. For them, foods that we routinely consume can be life-threatening.

Food allergies are caused by the exaggerated reaction of the immune system to certain foods. Because they cannot be cured, avoiding the allergen, or substance responsible for the allergy, is the only way to protect against them.

What are the symptoms?
Symptoms of food allergy can appear within few minutes to couple of hours after consumption of the allergen. Most frequently encountered symptoms (all of these don`t necessarily develop) include skin rash or hives, vomiting, diarrhea, stomach cramps, itching or tingling around the mouth, swelling of the face, tongue and lips, wheezing, coughing, dizziness, swelling of vocal cords and throat and breathlessness or loss of consciousness. While some people suffer mild effects, some others may face serious consequences, and may need immediate attention and help from doctors.

Food allergies are diagnosed by a doctor on the basis of the patient`s history and certain tests.

Allergens common in India
While almost any food can be allergic, few common foods are usually responsible for almost 90 percent of food-related allergies. Patterns of common allergens differ across regions and cultures, and may increase with higher consumption.

Dairy, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts such as walnuts, almonds and cashews, fish, shellfish, soya, wheat and, increasingly, sesame generally top the list of most common allergens. However, incidence of allergies to milk, eggs and wheat, though common in India, are relatively less frequent then in the West. In contrast, dals (pulses) such as chickpeas are more common allergens in India and even allergy to rice has been reported. Fried foods and non-vegetarian foods have also been identified as common causes of allergies in India.

According to a study published in the Journal of the Indian Medical Association, peanuts are the most common food allergen in India, followed by, chocolate (cocoa), fish, coconut and cashews. Dals, soya, dairy products, wheat, lemon, chicken, meat and eggs are other allergens that are common in India.

A tiny amount of the allergen, for instance used as garnishing, is often enough to cause allergy attack. In many cases, even cross contamination from residue left behind on plates or vessels can trigger a serious attack.

These are tips to help you know what foods you should avoid for the following allergens:
Peanuts (groundnuts): Baked products including cakes and biscuits, chocolates, ice-creams, snacks including farsan, marzipan, nougat, and foods containing peanut butter. Reused oil in which food with peanuts has been cooked can cause a reaction. Refined peanut oil is usually safe, but cold-pressed or extruded oil should be avoided.
Chocolate: Foods containing cocoa chocolates, cakes, biscuits, ice creams or milkshakes.
Fish: Packaged sauces containing fish products apart from fish dishes.
Shellfish: Packaged foods containing shellfish apart from dishes containing shellfish.
Coconut: Raw coconut, cooked foods with coconut such as curries and chutneys, cakes, biscuits, farsan and desserts including sweetmeats.
Tree nuts: Cakes biscuits, chocolates, foods garnished with nuts, farsan, fudges, chikkis and marzipan.
Dals: Cooked dals as also snacks and sweetmeats made using besan or chickpea flour.
Soya: Soya bean in any form including soya milk, tofu or soya flour. Foods containing minor amounts of soya protein, such as soya oil or soya lecithin, are usually safe.
Milk: Milk in any form including butter, ghee, cheese and curd in cooked preparations, baked products, ice cream, sweetmeats, chocolates, etc.
Wheat: Wheat flour, semolina, daliya (broken wheat), wheat bran or wheat starch in breads, rotis, chapattis, packaged baked products, cereals, pasta and some noodles.
Eggs: Any part of egg, including egg white, egg yolk or egg powder used in cooking, cakes and other baked items, creamed foods, mayonnaise, marshmallows and ice creams.

If you suffer from a food allergy, you should:
Avoid consumption of the allergen in any form by carefully reading labels on packaged foods.
While eating out, make sure your food does contain an allergen. Explain that you are allergic, and stress the importance of avoiding cross contamination.
In case of accidental consumption, learn to recognize the symptoms of allergy and rush to an emergency center immediately.

Children with digestive problems often develop delayed food allergies. Frequent use of antibiotics, deficiency in essential fats, vitamin A or zinc, gastrointestinal infection, are possible causes for digestive problems. Correction of these can reduce food allergies.

Breastfeeding infants up to six months can also strengthen the immune system and reduce the likelihood of allergies in children.

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