Food Allergy Questions and Answers

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Food Allergy Questions and Answers
Food Allergy Questions and Answers

In this month of food allergy awareness, Allergies Québec has answered some questions that today's parents have about allergies.


What is a food allergy?

This is an abnormal and exaggerated reaction of the immune system (human body's defense system) following the intake of food. The immune system reacts by misidentifying one or more food proteins as dangerous. It is a food protein that is responsible for the allergy; this protein is called an “allergen”. You cannot be allergic to sugar or fat.

Is a food intolerance the same as an allergy?

No. Allergies always involve the immune system (the human body's defense system), whereas intolerance can be pharmacological (caffeine, alcohol, etc.), metabolic (difficulty digesting or metabolizing a sugar, an additive, fat) or of unknown cause. The symptoms of intolerance may resemble those of a food allergy, but are distinguished by the fact that they are generally dependent on the dose ingested. Indeed, a lactose intolerant person could well toleratesmall amounts of milk or other dairy products containing lactose, which is not the case for a person with a milk allergy, who could have a very severe, and even life-threatening, reaction with even traces of milk in a food. You should know that certain allergies, that is to say reactions linked to the immune system, are sometimes also called intolerances. Often these "intolerances" cause delayed reactions (ie not immediately after ingesting the food) and are not diagnosed by skin testing. In these cases, the offending food(s) should also be completely avoided. To fully understand the diagnosis you have been given, talk to your allergist.

What is anaphylaxis or anaphylactic reaction?

It is a rapid and generalized allergic reaction (affecting several systems/organs), often unpredictable, which can lead to death in a few minutes in the absence of adequate treatment. Anaphylactic reaction must be distinguished from anaphylactic shock. The latter only occurs when there is a drop in blood pressure.

What are the symptoms of an allergic reaction?

Allergic reaction symptoms usually appear within the first 30 minutes and almost always within two hours of exposure to the allergen (ie consumption of the food). However, some delayed reactions may occur hours to days later.

The most common symptomscurrents fall into two categories:

How is a food allergy diagnosed?

You don't make an allergy diagnosis yourself for your child or for yourself. If clinical signs (symptoms) seem to indicate abnormal reactions following the ingestion of food, a doctor should be consulted promptly. The latter will take a history of the symptoms to try to identify the food or foods responsible. If he thinks it may be an allergy, he should refer you to an allergist (AQAA). It is this allergy specialist who, after skin tests and/or blood tests and/or other examinations, will be able to accurately diagnose the allergy and guide you in the treatment and management of food allergy. The allergist will tell you if, based on your young child's history, the tests are relevant or not.

How is an allergy treated?

There is currently no cure for food allergy. The best treatment is prevention: contact with any trace of the allergen and the foods that contain it must be avoided at all times. To do this, the allergic person and his entourage must be well informed about the foods that cause the allergy and how to prevent any contact with these foods. If an allergic reaction occurs, you must first know how to recognize the symptoms. If the allergist has prescribed an adrenaline auto-injector, you must be very vigilant and administer it as soon as signs seem to indicate a more severe reaction.(anaphylaxis).


Adrenaline should be administered as soon as the first warning signs appear and before the first respiratory symptoms appear (difficulty breathing, voice change, difficulty speaking, wheezing, etc.). The allergic person must therefore always have their adrenaline (epinephrine) auto-injector close at hand and make sure that they and those around them (parents, brothers, sisters, teachers, educators, guardians, etc.) know administer it correctly. If the allergic person is also asthmatic, it is absolutely necessary to react quickly: the respiratory symptoms can appear very quickly.

Are food allergies common in the population?

Studies in the United States and other industrialized countries suggest that 6-8% of children under the age of three may suffer from a food allergy. In adults, 1 to 3.8% suffer from food allergies. Food allergies in children seem to have increased in recent years. Several factors are being studied as being responsible for this increase, namely heredity, the use of several allergenic proteins in the food industry, and the early ingestion, in children, of foods containing these proteins.

Can the development of food allergies be prevented?

Studies are not yet conclusive on this. At the moment, it is impossible to prevent with certainty the development of anyfood allergy in her child, but certain preventive measures can be taken, in particular if family members are asthmatic, suffer from eczema, rhinitis or allergies (food or not). A guide to introducing solids to babies from at-risk families is available from the AQAA. You can order it on the AQAA website or by phone at 514-990-2575.

Can desensitization be used to cure food allergies?

Desensitization is a treatment often used for allergies to pollen, dust, animals, and certain insect venoms. These are several injections of small doses of allergen spread over several months and years. Thus, the human body "gets used" to contact with the allergen and becomes more tolerant to it, without the allergy necessarily disappearing completely. Unfortunately, this treatment is not effective for food allergies and can even be very dangerous. Trying to desensitize your child yourself by regularly giving them small amounts of the food to which they are allergic is also a very bad idea, especially since a minute amount can cause a severe reaction and can even, in the worst case scenario,, result in death!


  • Nearly a quarter of a million Quebecers suffer from food allergies
  • 6 to 8% of children under three suffer from a food allergy…
  • 1. 5% of Montreal schoolchildren aged 5 to 9 areallergic to peanuts…
  • 9 types of food are responsible for 90% of allergic reactions…
  • Food allergy is the very first allergy to appear in children.
  • Milk is the most common cause of food allergies in children.
  • Allergic reactions to peanuts are more serious than those caused by, among other things, milk or eggs.
  • There are very rare cases where as little as 1/5 teaspoon of a food has actually caused the death of a person with an allergy to it.
  • In the majority of fatal reactions, the allergic person was unaware that what they ate contained the food to which they were allergic.
  • Children who have both asthma and food allergies are more likely to have severe reactions (anaphylactic shock). If the asthma is poorly controlled, the intensity of the allergic reaction may be more severe.
  • Most serious allergic reactions happen outside the home. Restaurants are one of the major traps for people with food allergies.

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