Food allergies are tricky things. They vary from person to person, reactions can evolve and change, get more severe, or even disappear. They're just unbelievably difficult to manage, in general. What's making the whole thing even harder to manage is the fact that there are so many people out there spouting all kinds of garbage about food allergies that just aren't true.
Here are a few common myths that I'd like to dispel that'll maybe help clear up some confusion.
You can't get food allergies as an adult
Food allergies can appear at any time, with severe reactions happening out of the blue, or milder reactions at first. If you start having symptoms and suspect a food allergy, seek medical opinions ASAP. Things can get out of hand pretty fast with food allergies, and it's always a good idea to go for testing.
A positive blood allergy test absolutely indicates an allergy
Sometimes—and sometimes not—tests, such as the RAST or Immunocap RAST, don't truly give an indication of an allergy. They offer an antibody level, but there are plenty of cases where those with low antibody levels are not allergic to those foods. My son has never eaten peanuts, but skin and blood tests indicate he's allergic, so we err on the side of caution, but there's a chance he isn't even allergic. Tricky! As our allergist also says, there is no test for severity, either, so you can never know exactly how bad a reaction could be. The problem with these tests is that, quite often, they're misinterpreted and people are told they've got allergies they simply don't have. We went through this with my son at first, and were told he was literally allergic to everything. Ridiculous.
Kids will outgrow allergies
While this isn't unheard of, there are no guarantees. It has been reported that after doing complete elimination diets (for upwards of three years), approximately 85% of kids will outgrow dairy allergies, but it's far less common to outgrow seafood and nut allergies. My son was allergic to all white fish as a toddler, and we were told it would absolutely be a lifelong allergy . . . it is not! He is only four years old, but has already outgrown the allergy and has no more symptoms at all. Again, allergies follow no set path and are tricky to predict.
Peanut allergies are the most common
Untrue, actually. Though they're definitely the one we talk most often about these days (probably because they are the most likely to cause anaphylactic reactions), the most common food allergies in Canada are:
Feeding your child small amounts of a food will cure them of the allergy
NO. No no no no no. Okay, so yes, there are currently studies under way that indicate a strict desensitization process may possibly lead to the elimination of food allergies, but this is absolutely not something you can undertake yourself. Never, ever, ever feed your child a food they're allergic to without a medical doctor's supervision.
You can have an anaphylactic reaction by smelling a food
It's incredibly rare for a serious reaction to occur simply because an allergen is nearby and, no, anaphylaxis cannot occur because an allergen is being consumed in the same vicinity as an allergic person. The reason food bans often happen in schools is out of fear of an allergic child managing to eat some of the allergen. But no, simply smelling peanuts will not cause my son to have a reaction. Even cross-contamination on surfaces and toys is minimal and not really a concern. A food allergy involves reaction to the food's protein (which happens from ingesting it or, less often, by getting it in one's eyes), so even just touching an allergen would not cause anaphylaxis. As noted HERE, it would be a real concern if a large amount of peanut dust was released all at once into the air (like, peanuts all over a bar floor or a place cooking with peanut oil). But in general? Not a concern, no.
You can have an anaphylactic reaction by getting some of the food on your skin
I'm told a rash or other minor reaction is possible, but no, evidence shows that nothing life-threatening occurs from skin contact with an allergen.
You're allergic to any food that disagrees with you
Many people confuse intolerances with allergies. Lactose intolerance is not an allergy, nor is having gas after eating certain foods an indication of allergy. Similarly, perception of "hyperactivity" after eating certain foods or substances is not an indication of allergy. Only 6-8% of kids have allergies, but far more parents report their kids as having them, because of this confusion. It is estimated that anywhere from 50-90% of reported food allergies are false. This doesn't help those of us dealing with real allergies, people. Please stop.
A naturopath can diagnose food allergies
My family has a naturopathic doctor whom we absolutely adore and trust. She's amazingly helpful, and was one of the first professionals to help us deal with my son's allergies and severe eczema. She has a great way of balancing western and traditional medicines that makes me feel very comfortable. But even she knows that there are many quacks out there selling services that are simply not science-based. As we all know, when we're desperate to find a solution to our kids' problems, we'll listen to almost any advice that seems remotely feasible. Please read THIS from Science-Based Medicine for further details. From their site:
"Naturopaths and other alternative medicine providers do not diagnose allergies in evidence-based ways. Yet many offer purported different diagnostic tests as part of their practice. Treatments have either been shown to be unreliable or have been demonstrated to be useless. Unproven or disproven tests for food allergy that alternative practitioners may offer include:
IgG blood tests
IgG blood tests (e.g., Hemocode and Yorktest) cannot identify food sensitivities or allergies, only recent exposure to different food ingredients. It has no established value as a diagnostic test for food allergies.
AK is a well-known scam that is purported to diagnose allergies by holding a suspected allergen and then pressing down on that limb. Muscle weakness is said to signify an allergy. Careful evaluations show that AK tests can be completely manipulated by the tester, and they have no relationship to actual allergic responses.
Electrodermal test or “Vega Testing”
The Vega test is claimed to measure body electric currents (to acupuncture points) with an allergen in the electrical circuit. There is no correlation between Vega test results and reality, in that it cannot identify allergies at all.
Cytotoxic testing (Bryan’s test)
These fake allergy tests were last generation’s IgG blood tests, sold in storefronts, and involves mixing a patient’s white blood cells with suspected allergens. There is no correlation between the results, and allergic responses. The FDA and other regulators have taken action to clamp down on cytotoxic assay sales, but providers can still be found.
While useful for testing for exposure to drugs and some chemicals, there’s no basis for examining the hair to determine allergies
Used more for diagnosing food “intolerance,” this involves measuring the pulse before and after eating a suspected allergen. It should be self-evident why this sort of testing isn’t advisable for suspected allergies.
A naturopath can eliminate allergies
There is no current cure for food allergies. None. Not through any western or alternative medicine avenues. One of the more common "allergy elimination" techniques is called NAET (Nambudripad's Allergy Elimination Techniques" and folks, it doesn't work. These "techniques" can kill. I beg of you—please don't risk a life because someone with confidence convinces you that a technique works. If there truly were therapies that worked, we'd all be allergy-free.
Labels that read "may contain" are totally safe
Nope, they're not. Just because there are no nuts IN a product, it doesn't mean the food hasn't come in contact (we call it "cross-contamination") with nuts in the process of it being made. So, no, if a label says it "may contain" shellfish, it's not safe for a shellfish-allergic person. A 2009 study found that detectable levels of peanut were found in almost 9% of products labelled "may contain." In case I haven't drilled this into you enough already—0% is the only amount that's tolerable to allergic people. Zero. So, no, absolutely not safe.