Saturday, June 04, 2011

Grading the severity of your allergy: Sensitivity vs Reaction Level

When it comes to allergic reactions there are essentially two measurements to grade your reactions.

On one side there is reactivity. The severity of a reaction can be as simple as making you miserable, or as life threatening to land you in the ER.

On the other side, there is sensitivity. One whiff of your allergen from 6 miles away might set you off, or you might just simply be able to pick off the offending food from your plate.

These two measurements of allergenicity (is that a word? probably not).. These two measurements of your allergy do not have a single thing to do with one another.

You can go into anaphylactic shock with every reaction, but still only react with direct contact.  Another person can simply not feel well with each reaction, and have that reaction if someone even walks in the room with the offending item.

This is where people get confused, and this confusion can sometimes cause people to proclaim things to be totally safe when they're not, or misrepresent themselves. Often this is not done with evil intentions, but with well meaning people trying to share their experiences and help others out.

Whether you tested a 1 or a 4 for your allergen, whether or not it lands you in the ER, does not make you sensitive. An allergy's sensitivity is about just how little contact or exposure is required to make you react at all in any sense.

In sensitivity, there are also two main gauges of sensitivity. Internal and External.

Internal sensitivity is when the allergen is ingested. This includes eye contact and breathing it in, as these both allow the allergen to get "inside" the body with possible absorption by the mucus membranes.

External sensitivity is direct skin contact. Keep in mind, even those without much external sensitivity may find themselves reacting to contact if their skin is broken, or if the corny substance is wet, or if they're in the shower, as wet or broken skin allows the body to more readily absorb the allergen through the skin weakening it's protective barrier.

Someone who is internally sensitive is not always necessarily externally contact sensitive. Those who are externally sensitive may not always be internally as sensitive.

This allows for a lot of confusion when grading products for reliability of corn-free status.

Even at my most sensitive, I could still pick up a corn chip with my fingers or touch a corn cob (I didn't because of my fear of accidentally getting residue of it in my mouth.) without much of a reaction or without a reaction at all.  Others would break out into a full body rash on contact with a corn chip, but be able to eat some contaminated products that would leave me sick as a dog for days.

So just to clarify.. The severity of your reaction while horrid does not make your reactions more valid for testing the presence of an allergen, it's your sensitivity (how much it takes to set you off) that is a much better test of the presence of an allergen.

So when you're out there on boards and forums, do a lot of reading and pay attention to what products people are using. Find the person who best fits your own sensitivity level, and join forces.

The best way to get through this allergy is with someone else who also can help you weed out problem products and make safe recommendations.

Don't trust anyone just because they sound right, or are saying what you want to hear.  Sometimes the thing that sounds the most unbelievable with this allergy, is the one you should rely on. 

In truth, question everything.

(If you're part of our groups, please also see terminology descriptions:


River Glorious said...

Thank you, Von, for this explanation. I am going to reread it several times and pass this link to your blog to my husband and daughter.

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Anonymous said...

I think this is important to know, especially in regards to our Corn Allergy, which does not have good allergy tests available yet. My first allergy was dairy, and most people have a pretty similar reaction - a messed up stomach, among other things. With corn tho, it can be all over the place.

I am internally sensitive to a mixed semi-high degree. I don't go into anaphylaxis, but I do get "corn stomach" and a guaranteed headache, so I basically just feel like crap for 6 to 48 hours after eating something with corn in it. But it's not so bad that I react to things like cardboard lining, so I'm not highly sensitive internally...just semi-highly sensitive, haha.

But what makes it difficult is that I react to some things that only really highly-sensitive people react to, and I don't react to a few things that semi-sensitive people typically react to. Bananas (ethylene gas - corn derivative), apples (wax coating - corn derivative), orange juice (citric acid - not citris but citric, also a corn derivative) and so on all give me a headache within minutes.

So it's really hard to track down what has corn, how much corn content it has, how sensitive you are, and what specifically you react to. Unfortunately the best way to find out is by eating it, and seeing if you get sick. I try to limit myself to one new food item per day so that I can keep track of what bothers me & what doesn't.

One of the hardest things, other than not having corn completely labeled (like in food preparation stuff like honey or raisins, both of which I react to), is that the food industry doesn't understand what corn-free really means. For example, most people with a gluten allergy (or even Celiac's) can tolerate distilled vinegar (like in ketchup) because the gluten is removed. Some foods advertise that the corn or corn protein is removed, but we typically react to ALL parts of corn.

For example, I have a bad reaction to Beanitos chips, which are even advertised as corn-free! Corn-lite people can sometimes tolerate those chips, but I can't - but then I can tolerate some other things. It makes zero sense. You have to keep a food dairy to see what you react to. On the flip side, it's nice to feel good on a regular basis instead of constantly feel sick & tired, so it's worth it! Good article!