A protein allergy may be more common than you think. Mild symptoms, such as an upset stomach, can often mimic other health problems. So just what is a protein allergy and how do you know if your child has one? And what do you do if you have a protein allergy?
Immune System on a Rampage
When a person has a protein allergy, in very basic terms, the body sees the protein as a danger to the body. Your immune system goes into active mode and tries to protect the body from the protein. This causes a number of problems, which can manifest in a variety of ways. Symptoms can be mild and slow moving or severe, depending on how allergic the person or child is to the protein.
Protein Allergy Symptoms
The milder and slower symptoms include diarrhea, skin rashes, colic and irritability. Babies and young children can seem fussy and have upset stomachs. Spitting up more often than normal or seeming colicky can occur in children with protein allergies. Some of these milder symptoms, such as skin rashes, may not appear right away. Bloody stools are often a sign of protein allergies in infants.
More severe reactions such as vomiting, wheezing, hives and swelling can happen quickly. Children and adults can be at serious risk if breathing and swelling problems occur when they eat something that contains proteins. In extremely severe cases, anaphylaxis can occur, which affects not only the skin but breathing and blood pressure as well. Unless treated quickly, anaphylaxis can lead to death.
Milk Protein Allergy
The most common protein allergy is to cow's milk. Children frequently have problems with cow's milk, although they usually outgrow these allergies between three and five years of age. Children who have problems with cow's milk may also be allergic to goat's or sheep's milk as well. Breast fed babies are lest likely to develop milk allergies, but if they do, the mother has to be cautious. A nursing mother should abstain from all dairy products and reintroduce them slowly as the baby gets older.
Other Protein Allergies
When a baby has a cow's milk allergy, parents often turn to soy-based formula or soy milk to replace dairy products. Some of these children cannot tolerate soy protein either. Y\our doctor may prescribe a hypoallergenic formula.
Peanuts are another source of protein that can cause an allergic reaction. And while cow's milk is the most common source of protein allergy in children, peanuts, shrimp and seafood allergies are the main source for adults.
Diagnosing Protein Allergies
Your doctor may do a number of tests to determine whether your child has a protein allergy. Your personal history will be one of the main things he considers. Keeping a food diary with reactions can be a big help to your physician. Other tests include a stool test, a blood test and a skin test. In the skin test, the doctor inserts a small amount of the suspected food under the skin and watches for a wheal to appear, which indicates an allergic reaction.
Another test is the oral challenge. During the oral challenge, suspected foods are completely removed from the diet. After a certain period of time, several days or weeks, the foods are gradually introduced while the patient is watched for reactions.
Managing Protein Allergies
Once a diagnosis is made, the best way to manage protein allergies is to avoid the food. Parents especially will need to educate themselves to the various ways allergens can be hidden in food products. Milk protein, for example, is present in butter, yogurt, cheese and cream. It is can appear on the label as whey, casein, lactic acid and sodium caseinate. Soy is in many health food products today and is the basis for common foods such as mayonnaise. Food retailers and manufacturers are required to label products that contain peanuts or other potential allergens. This helps avoid problem foods.
Symptoms can be treated after exposure. Antihistamines, such as Benadryl, ease itching and hives in exposed children. For those with life-threatening allergies, carrying an epinephrine pen to stave off anaphylaxis is a must.
Spring allergies are in full bloom. And your family's first line of defense against the season's biggest offender, pollen, is simple: Keep the windows closed.
Children have three times the prevalence of food allergies compared with adults. The reason for this is thought to be that children may outgrow certain food allergies.