Adverse immune responses to foods affect approximately 5% of young children and 3% to 4% of adults in westernized countries and appear to have increased in prevalence. Food-induced allergic reactions are responsible for a variety of symptoms and disorders involving the skin and gastrointestinal and respiratory tracts and can be attributed to IgE-mediated and non-IgE-mediated (cellular) mechanisms. Genetic disposition and environmental factors might abrogate oral tolerance, leading to food allergy. Disease outcomes are influenced by the characteristics of the immune response and of the triggering allergen. Diagnosis is complicated by the observation that detection of food-specific IgE (sensitization) does not necessarily indicate clinical allergy. Therefore diagnosis requires a careful medical history, laboratory studies, and, in many cases, an oral food challenge to confirm a diagnosis. Novel diagnostic methods, including ones that focus on immune responses to specific food proteins or epitopes of specific proteins, are under study. Currently, management of food allergies consists of educating the patient to avoid ingesting the responsible allergen and to initiate therapy (eg, with injected epinephrine for anaphylaxis) in case of an unintended ingestion. Improved therapeutic strategies under study include oral and sublingual immunotherapy, Chinese herbal medicine, anti-IgE antibodies, and modified vaccines.
Copyright 2010 American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology. Published by Mosby, Inc. All rights reserved.