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Times of India
08 July 2010
Chennai, India

The government has now accepted food allergy as a serious public health issue and even pushed legislation to make labelling, along with providing allergy information, mandatory for packaged foods. But what are the most common allergies among Indians?

“No answers yet,”says B Sesikiran, director of the National Institute of Nutrition in Hyderabad. For individuals, it is essential that their caregivers and food providers are adequately informed of their allergies. Yet there is no registry or data that can even give an estimate.“We don’t even know if there are any Indian foods that can cause allergy,”adds Sesikiran. In most countries like the US, at least 8% of children and 3.7% of adults are diagnosed with food allergies. While a very few percentage of people live with them, many outgrow.

Doctors say food sensitivity can broadly be catogorised into two types–allergies and intolerance. Reactions that involve the immune system, which helps the body resist disease, are called food allergies. Those that do not are called food intolerances. Though intolerances are technically not as serious as allergies, patients in both categories might require medical help.

Senior physicians like Dr K V Tiruvengadam say neither the country nor the state maintains any registry for food allergies.“The most common and reliable diagnosis for food allergy is a blood test. These antibodies are picked up from the blood,”he said. Once allergies are confirmed, the most common treatment is abstinence. In most cases, it often increases threshold levels and on most occasions the condition reverses. That’s why labelling helps.

But most don’t consult a doctor until they have reactions twice or thrice.“For instance, if they have a bad stomach, they may meet a medical gasteroentrologist or for skin rashes they may meet dermatologists. But the ideal specialist is mostly an immunologist.”

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