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raising awareness about food allergy

This week marks an important event in the UK's health calendar - Allergy Awareness Week. Established by the charity Allergy UK, this annual event aims to increase public awareness about allergies and provide support to individuals living with allergic conditions.


In this blog post, Sasha explains what a food allergy is, the huge hidden mental health and psychological impact of having an allergy, what you should do if you suspect you have one and why #itstimetotakeallergyseriously.

Food allergies in the UK


More than 4 out of 10 British adults (44%) now suffer from at least one allergy and the number of sufferers is on the rise, growing by around 2 million between 2008 and 2009 alone. It is estimated that up to 10% of adults and children have a food hypersensitivity. However as many as 20% of the population experience some reactions to foods which make them believe they do have a food hypersensitivity (references)

The psychological impact of allergies


Recent data from the UK’s largest ever study into perceptions on allergies is startling - there is a huge hidden mental health and psychological impact of having an allergy.


  • 53% of people living with allergies in the UK regularly avoid social situations due to their allergy.
  • 52% regularly felt they had to play down their allergies due to fear of judgement from family, friends or employer leading to feelings of fear, isolation and depression.
  • 37% of people believe that allergy sufferers exaggerate the severity of their allergy.
  • 44% of workers with allergies said their condition had impacted their performance at work.

What is a food allergy?


A food allergy is an abnormal immune response to a particular food protein. The immune system mistakes the food protein as harmful and produces an allergic reaction. The symptoms can occur immediately after eating the food or several hours later. Some of the most common food allergens include peanuts, tree nuts, shellfish, fish, eggs, milk, and wheat.

How is a food allergy different from a food intolerance?


A food intolerance is not the same as a food allergy. It does not involve the immune system and is caused by the body's inability to digest certain food components, such as lactose in milk or FODMAPs. Food intolerances can cause symptoms like bloating, diarrhoea, and abdominal pain, but they are not life-threatening like food allergies. For more information please see another longer blog post Sasha wrote specifically about this here.

Diagnosing food allergy


The first step in diagnosing a food allergy is to see an allergy trained healthcare professional in the NHS. They will take a detailed medical history and perform a physical examination. They may also recommend allergy testing, such as a skin prick test or a specific IgE blood test. These tests can help to identify the specific food allergen causing the allergic reaction.

Be careful with allergy tests


There are lots of unreliable tests on the market. Save your money and please don’t buy any of the following tests - home delivered allergy kits, IgG blood tests, hair analysis, atopy patch tests, leucocyte cytotoxic test, hair analysis, bio-resonance diagnostics, auto homologous immune therapy, kinesiology, iridology, sublingual provocative food testing, homeopathic remedies and electro dermal testing (including electro acupuncture and Vega testing). These tests are not valid diagnostic tests for any type of food allergy as stipulated by the British Society of Allergy and Clinical Immunology BSACI.


Skin prick tests and IgE blood tests are the most reliable tests for diagnosing food allergies. In a skin prick test, a small amount of the allergen is placed on the skin, and the skin is pricked to allow the allergen to enter the body. If a person is allergic to the allergen, they will develop a small itchy bump at the site of the prick. In a blood test, a sample of blood is taken and tested for the presence of antibodies to the allergen.  


There are no validated tests for intolerances so a 6-8 week exclusion of the suspected food may be necessary with an allergy dietitian.

Managing a food allergy


The most effective way to manage a food allergy is to avoid the allergen. This can be challenging, especially if the allergen is a common ingredient in many foods. The NHS and Allergy UK advise that people with food allergies should read food labels carefully, avoid cross-contamination, and carry an adrenaline auto-injector at all times. An adrenaline auto-injector is a life-saving device that can be used to treat anaphylaxis.

See a food allergy dietitian


A dietitian can help people with food allergies to plan a healthy and balanced diet that avoids the allergen. They can also provide advice on alternative sources of nutrients, as some people with food allergies may be at risk of nutrient deficiencies. In addition, they can help to identify potential sources of cross-contamination and provide advice on how to avoid them.

In conclusion...


food allergies can be life-threatening, and it is essential to take them seriously. If you suspect that you or someone you know has a food allergy, seek medical advice as soon as possible. With proper diagnosis, management and increased public awareness, people with food allergies can live healthier, happier and more fulfilling lives.

Sasha Watkins

Registered dietitian and co-founder of Field Doctor

MSc (Allergy)

IG: @sashadietitian

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