The History of Food Allergy Treatments

The History of Food Allergy Treatments

These days, most Canadians have learned to be careful with their food. Allergy awareness has drastically increased in the past few decades, leading to warnings on food labels and restaurant menus that clearly indicate dishes that contain gluten, fish, or nuts.  

It’s easy to see why our society has become more precautious. According to Food Allergy Canada, more than 2.6 million Canadians suffer from a food allergy, while fully half of all Canadians know someone with such an allergy. Whether you have to avoid eggs or be more careful when bringing treats to work, everyone is affected by food allergies in one way or another, even those lucky enough to enjoy an unrestricted diet.

That wasn’t always the case. Though the first epinephrine auto-injector was invented in the 1970s, the modern conception of food allergies didn’t emerge until the 1980s. Prior to that, allergy attacks were regarded as idiosyncratic fringe cases with no bearing on mainstream medical science. As a result, there was no standardized approach to treatment and little institutional backing for serious research.

That began to change as medical science improved and food allergies became more prevalent in subsequent decades. Doctors gained a better understanding of the causes of food allergies, and have begun investigating potential treatment options for those affected. There is still no cure for food allergies, but breakthroughs like immunotherapy shots – which introduces small amounts of an allergen in a manner similar to a vaccine – can reduce the severity of allergy symptoms in many cases.

In the meantime, recommended treatment strategies has remained relatively consistent as we await further innovations. In conjunction with patient self-reports, the skin prick test is still the most common method of diagnosing food allergies. The test is imperfect, but it is far safer than more experimental alternatives given the risk of side effects like anaphylaxis. Amongst children, emergency room visits due to anaphylaxis more than doubled in a four-year period, suggesting that we still aren’t doing enough to guard against exposure.

That’s why education is so important. Food allergies are on the rise. The simple fact that we are now more aware of allergy triggers has allowed us to make smarter decisions about food safety. Most elementary schools no longer allow school lunches with common allergens like peanuts. Adults are expected to monitor their own diets, but food labeling has made it easier and many popular food brands now offer nut-free (and other hypoallergenic) options. Both are a direct manifestation of medical research conducted in the past three decades.

For the time being, awareness and prevention are the safest, most effective ways of dealing with a food allergy. There is simply no guaranteed way to treat or diagnose a food allergy, and while our knowledge has improved, there is much that we still don’t understand. Given the risks, it is safer to avoid a potentially deadly allergen than it is to gamble with your health.

 

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