What causes food allergies?

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When a person with a food allergy tastes, touches or even smells the wrong food, the respiratory system, the skin, the gastrointestinal tract and the cardiovascular system can be affected, Roth said. The most common way a reaction is triggered is by taste, and when it occurs, it is important to administer epinephrine quickly. Roth called epinephrine the “gold standard” for stopping the progression of anaphylaxis brought on by food allergies.

“There is nothing more important to anyone with a food allergy,” Lehr said, “or even an environmental allergy, than making sure you’re carrying epinephrine … at all times, because an accidental exposure to a food allergen can happen anywhere, any time.”

A cure on the way?

Food Allergy Research & Education, a nonprofit that was formed in 2012 after the merger between Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Network and the Food Allergy Initiative, raises millions of dollars each year to fund research into possible cures, spread awareness, encourage government advocacy and educate people about food allergies. FARE is the largest private funder of food allergy research in the world.

The most promising treatment for food allergies, which is still in clinical trials, is oral immunotherapy, or OIT. During OIT, the food allergen — in powder form, mixed with a harmless food — is administered gradually, in small but steadily increasing doses, until the patient is desensitized to it.

Studies show, Lehr said, that between 70 and 80 percent of people with food allergies can be desensitized, which is why OIT is so promising — although it is FARE’s goal to desensitize 100 percent of food allergy sufferers.

Roth said she hopes to one day treat patients with OIT, but she added that the treatment is a long way away from being approved by the Food and Drug Administration.

Go to www.liherald.com and search “food allergies” for the first and second installments of this series.

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