Frequently Asked Questions

What medical conditions does the Jaffe Food Allergy Institute treat?
We offer specialized care focused upon all types of food allergic disorders of all degrees of severity. In this regard, we are a preeminent center for clinical care and research on food allergic disorders. We have numerous ongoing studies concerning the diagnosis and treatment of food allergy and you and/or your family may inquire about these at the time of your visit. We also care for all types of allergic problems including asthma, allergic rhinitis (hay fever), atopic dermatitis (eczema), drug allergy, hives, insect sting allergy, severe allergic reactions (anaphylaxis), immune system problems, and many other allergic and immunologic disorders.

What should I expect during my initial visit?
During your initial visit, expect to meet with the physician and his/her associates to discuss your medical history and to have a physical examination. Based on the history and physical examination findings, we may determine that allergy tests are needed. Any tests will be explained in detail before they are performed.

Once the problem is diagnosed, treatment options can be discussed. Sometimes evaluations require multiple visits in order to complete the diagnostic evaluation and/or to provide medications and detailed information about treatment. We offer comprehensive care that includes an emphasis on education about the treatments for each illness that we treat. You may review written and videotaped instructions, and be referred for additional services that are appropriate to your care, if necessary.

What is food allergy?
A food allergy happens when the immune system "attacks" proteins in our food. The immune system is the part of the body that usually fights infections, but in this case the responses are misdirected. The term “allergy” indicates involvement of the immune system. Here, let's consider what is NOT a food allergy. For example, typical food poisoning is not a food allergy, but some types of food poisoning can look like a food allergy because a spoiled food may cause vomiting and diarrhea. Natural constituents of our foods can also cause adverse reactions, like when one gets jittery from caffeine or flushed from monosodium glutamate (MSG). These are also not allergies.

One of the adverse reactions to food that is most often confused with allergy is "intolerance." Intolerance is just a way of saying that an individual develops symptoms from a food (usually a component of the food) based on the individual's inability to digest or process the food, but there is no immune response involved (not an allergy). The classic example of intolerance is "lactose intolerance." Lactose is a type of sugar found naturally in milk. Those with lactose intolerance are missing a digestive enzyme that is needed to break down the milk-sugar. Individuals with lactose intolerance may appear "allergic" because they get diarrhea and gas from ingestion of products that contain lactose (milk, cheese, etc.), but they do not have life-threatening reactions, and their immune system is not reacting to the food.

What foods cause allergies?
In children, the most common foods causing significant reactions are egg, milk, peanut, soy, wheat, tree nuts, and fish and shellfish. In adults, the most common foods are peanut, tree nuts, and fish and shellfish. Many people mention strawberries, citrus, corn, and chocolate as common allergy-causing foods, but they are actually quite uncommon. It seems that we are seeing some increase in allergies to seeds like sesame, poppy, and maybe even mustard and more (mild) reactions to various fruits and vegetables.

What is atopic dermatitis?
Atopic dermatitis, or eczema, is a chronic skin disease estimated to occur in 10% of children. While the exact cause is not known, eczema is frequently associated with allergies and may be aggravated by foods, dust, pollens, or animals. The skin is dry with an itchy, red rash. Weeping, oozing, and crusting of skin may occur as well as thickening of continually affected areas. The scratching itself is felt to play a major role in the development of these skin changes. Bacterial skin infection is common and causes more itching and redness. The skin also has an increased susceptibility to viral infections such as molluscum, warts, or herpes (cold sores, shingles).

Eczema is not uncommon in children presenting with food allergy. Our physicians can assist with optimizing care and control of your child’s eczema.

What is anaphylaxis?
This is a severe allergic reaction that comes on rapidly. Typically, several parts of the body are affected, sometimes in a severe and progressive way. Anaphylaxis is a medical emergency and must be treated promptly.

What are the symptoms of anaphylaxis?
Symptoms usually start within minutes after an exposure, although a delay of up to an hour or more is possible. Symptoms can affect the skin (swelling, hives/welts, itchiness, redness); gut (itchy mouth, stomach ache, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea); throat and breathing (hoarseness, difficulty swallowing, throat closing, trouble breathing, wheezing, repetitive coughing); and circulation (paleness, dizziness, passing out, low blood pressure, loss of pulse).

A "feeling of impending doom" is often described. Women may experience uterine contractions. Mild symptoms that do not progress to more severe symptoms are usually not thought of as life-threatening anaphylaxis (for example, skin symptoms, itchy mouth, or stomach aches appearing by themselves, not in combination with any other symptoms).

Can I prevent food allergy?
Probably the most important point to make here is not to feel guilty about anything you did or did not do in terms of a child with food allergy. We see children with peanut allergy who, as far as anyone knows, never were exposed to any peanut and still showed up with a strongly positive blood test. Based upon the available but limited literature, most authorities suggest that breast feeding is important (for many reasons) and also seems to have some allergy-preventative properties (but even this finding is controversial). Recommendations about the role of a mother's and infant's diet in preventing allergies are changing so ask your Institute doctor for the most recent information.