Nut Allergies Catch People Unawares
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20 August 2010
By Deepa Suryanarayan
A few months ago, a young boy from Kenya was referred to Hinduja Hospital with a strange complaint. He had bloodshot eyes, swollen lips and a rash all over his body. The reason: He had accidentally touched a coconut. The incident is just one of the many cases where people fall prey to serious food allergies.
"The boy was so allergic to coconut that it was a matter of life and death to him," said Dr Vipla Puri, head of department of Radio Immuno Assay, Hinduja Hospital.
"Even a tiny amount of nut can trigger serious allergic reactions within minutes which can be mild to life-threatening. Allergy to nuts can result in throat congestion, rashes, nausea, breathlessness, loss of consciousness, or even death," said Puri, who has seen several such cases over the years.
Data analysis on referral patients done by Hinduja Hospital from from January 2008 to June 2010 shows that about 17.14 % of 1,085 patients were allergic to almonds, cashews, peanuts, hazelnut, walnut, pistachio, etc. Hazelnuts were the most allergic tree nuts affecting 45% of patients, followed by cashew (27.6%) and peanuts (12.8%).
Puri said a large number of people weren’t aware of what they were allergic to. "Nuts are a part of a number of food items, including ice creams, chocolates, cookies, cereals, energy bars, salad dressing, etc. Unfortunately, in India, lack of proper and detailed labelling leads to life-threatening allergies," said Puri.
Food allergies, affecting 1% of the population, are a matter of grave concern. "A test on a blood sample can detect the presence of a protein called Immunoglobulin E (IgE)," said Puri, adding,"when a patient has a nut allergy, we suspect that their immune system is not functioning normally. It identifies nuts as harmful and produces IgE antibodies, which release histamine, which in turn can cause reactions in the cardiovascular system, respiratory system, etc."