In recent decades, food allergies have been on the rise in the UK. For instance, between 1995 and 2016, the country experienced a five-fold increase in peanut allergies alone. That’s based on the study of researchers from King’s College London.
Children, in particular, have been vulnerable to allergies in recent years. Researchers found that about 7 percent of children in the UK have allergies.
While allergic reactions are mostly a minor issue, there are some extreme cases where it results in a fatality. Anaphylaxis is a life-threatening allergic reaction that can occur among some individuals exposed to certain types of food products.
But even if it doesn’t come to that extreme level, families live with constant anxiety around this mysterious condition. Dietary considerations can feel severely constraining, and emergency treatments can cost a considerable amount of money.
Before getting into potential causes behind the rise of food allergies, it helps to understand first the basics of an allergic reaction.
How does an allergic reaction happen?
When the immune system mistakenly tags food proteins as threats, the body releases chemicals to fight off these targets. The release of these chemicals causes the visible symptoms of an allergic reaction. Skin redness and swelling are common symptoms, but in extreme cases, shortness of breath and vomiting can happen.
Several foods trigger these reactions, such as milk, eggs, peanuts, fish, and some fruits and vegetables. Scientists are still figuring out why people’s immune systems would reject these products.
However, they found that those who have food allergies also have existing allergic conditions (e.g., asthma, hay fever). So it may be the case that such conditions make it likely for someone to develop a food allergy.
Potential contributors to the rise in food allergies
While we have yet to find a single definitive reason behind the phenomenon, there are some possible explanations.
Some scientists point to better hygiene.
As more people have decreased exposure to infection at an early age, the immune system becomes less experienced in dealing with a good variety of bacteria and parasites. On the surface, that may sound all well and good, but it makes the immune system likely to mistake specific proteins as harmful invaders.
Another theory suggests that Vitamin D deficiency is allowing children to be more vulnerable to allergies. Some scientists posit that Vitamin D helps the immune system develop healthy responses to certain foods.
A sure way to prevent a food allergy from popping up is to identify the food that is causing it, then avoiding it entirely. There are also several medically-certified treatment options for allergic reactions.
However, before making any sudden changes in diet (for you and your children), you should always consult your doctor or dietitian. More importantly, a professional diagnosis is needed before you can conclusively say that you or your child have food allergies. While there is still no cure for these kinds of allergies, it’s essential for people to carefully manage the condition by avoiding food culprits and making well-informed lifestyle changes.