New testing techniques offer hope to food allergy sufferers by allowing them to find out if their allergy is to food or to something much more mundane, like birch pollen. As "Here & Now" reported this morning, the new uKnow Molecular Allergy test is revealing that many people who have for years believed they have a potentially fatal peanut allergy, actually have a less severe allergy to birch pollen.
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The short explanation,summarized from uKnow's webpage, goes like this: If you have a food allergy, you aren't allergic to the whole food obviously, just a handful --or even a single type-- of protein within the food. Your body reacts to each of those proteins differently. One protein might make your eyes water, one might make your throat itchy and one might actually kill you by sending you into anaphylactic shock. But since you're eating all those proteins at once, you get all three reactions: watery eyes, itchy throat and untimely demise.
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Many different types of plants might have similar proteins and thus, will cause the same reactions. The twist is that it's possible that only one particular kind of food has the protein that puts you in the hospital, the rest just make your throat itchy.
In the past doctors were unable to tell which proteins in the food caused illness so they advised parents to keep their kids of anything that triggers any allergic symptoms. Clearly it's better safe than sorry. But this new uKnow test can tell doctors and parents exactly which proteins make their child sick and give them a rough idea how sick they make them. So if you're actually deathly allergic to almonds and only sort of allergic to peanuts, you can know that for sure and plan accordingly, steering clear of almonds and accepting that eating a PB&J sandwich is going to give you an itchy throat and nothing more.
Even better, this test is revealing that many children aren't allergic to any of the really dangerous proteins in peanuts, they're actually allergic to the proteins in common birch pollen which are similar to those found in peanuts.