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The Informed Parent

The Many Faces of Food Allergies

by John H. Samson, M.D., F.A.A.P.
Published on Aug. 13, 2001

“Milk makes mucus” is the hallmark cry of food allergies. Everyone seems to say it, but most people do not realize that milk does make mucus only if a person is allergic to milk. Why do so many people get nasal congestion or post nasal discharge when they ingest dairy products? Correct: they are allergic to dairy.

It is estimated that at least 25% of the adult population is significantly allergic to milk. This is enough to make the age-old observation appear universally true.

With any food or drink that one is allergic to, the allergy may express itself with one or a combination of the following symptoms: runny nose, congestion, wheezing, coughing, headache, stomachache, diarrhea, vomiting, rashes, a change in disposition or mental status. Very often the only symptom is fatigue or a loss of energy. When a person has unexplained symptoms it is important to work with your physician in considering a food allergy. Manipulating the diet in order to eliminate potential offenders, even if it is very difficult, is worth the effort.

On the other hand, in some cases, especially with corn products, hyperactivity, depression or extreme fatigue may follow. Sometimes only one of these symptoms may be present. As I have written before, (“Sugar Gets a Bum Wrap”) several patients who have been on Ritalin could come off the medication when corn products were removed from their diet.

In the past ten years I have found four dozen patients who had hyperactivity or depression associated with corn sweetener ingestion. The diagnosis of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome should be made only after food sensitivity is excluded.

As informed parents you should be open to working with your child’s pediatrician in making this correct diagnosis and following the therapy. Removing specific food products from your child’s diet may prove critical in restoring a normal mental status. When a chronic symptom or constellation of several symptoms become apparent do not close your mind to working with your child’s physician on finding a true etiology for the findings.

I feel too many patients are on Ritalin or Dexedrine for hyperactivity, or on Prozac for depression. In some cases removing of the offending agent clears the symptoms that the errant medication did not help. Before agreeing to medicate your child make sure that food allergies could not be the cause of the problem. This can usually be accomplished by a careful history. An extensive blood or skin testing program is usually not necessary at this point.

A trial elimination of the potential offending food for 3 – 4 weeks can usually resolve the question. Stopping the food product for only 3 – 4 days proves nothing if a benefit is not seen. Keep in mind, foods do not only cause rashes or intestinal symptoms, as common belief portrays. They can just as easily provoke respiratory or mental status changes. Frequently pediatricians do not believe in the true significant existence of food allergies. If you encounter this belief, tactfully suggest the possibility and then pursue it to the exclusion.

Food allergies are more prevalent than the average person believes. To pretend it does not exist may prolong miserable symptoms that detract from good health and quality of life.

As we opened our discussion in the article, yes, milk makes mucus if we are allergic to it. But, corn makes depression; potatoes make asthma and eggs cause hives also—only if you are allergic to them. Just as sinusitis and primary ADD are over-diagnosed, so too are true allergy syndromes under-diagnosed. Diagnosing a food allergy may cut short years of annoying symptoms. Be informed. Help your pediatrician do what is needed to clear up your child’s problems.

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