What is Cheese Allergy?
Cheese allergy is essentially a food allergy. Food Allergies affect more than 6% of young children and between 3-4% of adults in the United States of America. People allergic to mold spores, dairy or penicillin are most likely to show symptoms of the discussed allergy. If it is caused by dairy allergy then the symptoms generally goes away within three years of age. However, dairy allergy should not be confused with lactose intolerance. The latter can stay a life time.
What is the mechanism behind the allergy caused by cheese?
It is an immune mediated response of the body. The body reacts to the proteins in the cheese culture or the ones in milk. These are otherwise harmless proteins. The immune system starts producing Immunoglobin E antibodies (IgE) in response to the threat posed by the proteins. These antibodies react and bond with the proteins causing the mast cells in the skin, gut and pharynx to release excess histamine. Histamine is a chemical which causes the adverse reactions in the body. Histamine causes the skin reactions by irritating nerve endings, swelling and inflammation in the airways causing breathing difficulties. It causes general inflammation by dilating blood vessels.
Symptoms of the allergy caused by cheese
- Contact dermatitis, rashes, urticaria etc.
- Runny nose and congestion.
- Red, itchy and watery eyes.
- Swelling of lips, tongue and mouth.
- An extreme situation characterized by shortness of breath, dizziness, confusion, drop in blood pressure may occur as in anaphylaxis. It is an emergency medical condition needing immediate attention.
What causes cheese allergy?
There are different components in cheese one could be allergic to. Let us look at the different components causing the said allergy.
Mold and Penicillin Allergy
Aged cheeses like asiago, gorgonzola contain mold. Besides, certain specialized cheeses like blue cheese has cultures of the mold penicillum. People allergic to mold spores and penicillin may develop cross sensitivities to the said cheeses. This type of allergy mainly produces oral allergy symptoms like inflammation, redness, itching and burning sensation in the lips, tongue, mouth and throat. Skin rashes and allergic conjunctivitis also occurs.
Dairy allergies are mainly caused by the protein found in milk. The proteins in casein and whey, which are the two main components of milk, are mostly behind the adverse physical reactions. The reactions are mainly gastrointestinal in nature and includes vomiting, nausea, dyspepsia, diarrhea etc. Other symptoms would include skin rashes and other skin reactions, lethargy, lack of concentration, shortness of breath and asthma.
It is a chemical found in preserved and fermented food. It is commonly found in processed cheeses like asiago, parmesan, brie, gouda, provolone, American etc. Individuals with chemical sensitivity may develop cross reactions from tyramine. The body produces excess histamine in response to it and produces symptoms like congestion, sneezing, skin rashes, rapid pulse etc.
A word about lactose intolerance
This is a non allergic and non IgE mediated response to the proteins found in lactose. In this case, the body does not produce the necessary enzymes required to break down and digest the protein, lactose, found in milk. The symptoms of this intolerance is similar to that of dairy allergy. Gastrointestinal distress as in bloating, cramping, nausea, flatulence etc are common. It is essential to get tested to distinguish between lactose intolerance and dairy allergy causing the discussed allergy.
Diagnosis of the allergy
Diagnosis of the allergy is mainly done by the following tests:
Food Challenge Test
Cheese is eliminated from diet for a few days and then reintroduced. If symptoms reappear then the allergy is confirmed.
In this method the allergy sufferer is recommended to be on a detox diet like that of juice or plain rice and vegetables for a few days. This clears all the food allergens from the system. Then the food causing allergies is reintroduced. If symptoms appear then the allergy is confirmed.
Intradermal, Scratch and Sublingual Tests
The food sample can be placed below the tongue or it can be introduced intradermally. Through pricks on the skin or patches stuck to skin the allergen is brought in contact with the body. Reactions on skin affirms the presence of allergies.
The RAST or Radioallergosorbent test is done to detect the IgE antibodies in the blood sample. Another blood test which is effectively used in the said allergy is the ELISA or the Enzyme Linked Immunosorbent assay test.
Treatment and Prevention of Cheese Allergy
- Eliminating cheese from diet is the best solution. If it is caused by dairy allergy then soy cheese or goat cheese could be tried.
- Antihistamines can be helpful in managing oral allergy symptoms and other physical reactions.
- Decongestants help in relieving congestion and other respiratory symptoms. However, they are not meant for long term use.
- Corticosteroids are very effectively used to reduce swelling and inflammation.
- Atopical ointments and creams can be applied on skin reactions.
- In case of anaphylaxis, an emergency dose of epinephrine needs to be administered to avoid any life threatening condition.
- Lastly, it is helpful to read labels before ingesting any food. Ask for the list of ingredients in the menu even while dining out.