What are Food Allergies? Do Nigerians Have Them?

by Precious Nwakuba

In other continents, people are allergic to foods like dairy products, nuts, wheat, gluten products – just name it, and it’s easily believable. But when it comes to Nigeria, being allergic to certain foods sounds like an unbelievable condition to have. It may even sound like you’re “forming”.

It could even be placed in the same bracket as one of the rich kids’ conditions. Also, with the economic situation — people tend to look at others with food allergies in a certain way, like “You actually can’t eat certain foods? Or you’re just pretending”. 

In this article, we will be diving deep into the subject of food allergies and whether Nigerians do have them. 

What Are Food Allergies?

Food allergies are abnormal immune system responses that happen shortly after you eat a particular food. In other words, it’s your body’s way of saying, “Hey, I don’t like this ingredient or this food!” 

Think of it like having a picky eater in your body who takes things a bit too seriously, treating that food that doesn’t sit well as an invader and sending a defence against it, hence the physical reaction.

Being allergic to certain foods is very different from having food intolerance, but both can be mistaken. Food intolerance is simply when your digestive system cannot digest a particular food or doesn’t agree with it. But, they are not life-threatening. 

However, the similarity is that some symptoms of food intolerance such as diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, and stomach ache could be seen in food allergies. 

Causes of Food Allergies

A food allergy occurs when your body’s immune system misinterprets a particular food or ingredient as potentially harmful. As a result, your immune system triggers these cells to produce immunoglobulin E (IgE), an antibody that neutralizes the food or food ingredient that causes allergies (the allergen).

Even if you eat even the smallest amount of that food or food ingredient, IgE antibodies instantly sense it and signal your immune system to release a chemical called histamine, as well as other chemicals, into your bloodstream. 

So, these chemicals cause allergy symptoms or reactions that usually develop in a few minutes to 2 hours. 

Read also: Nigerian Soul Food and Their Importance to the Society. 

Signs and Symptoms of Food Allergies

The symptoms of food allergic reactions may involve the gastrointestinal tract, the skin, cardiovascular system and respiratory tract. These symptoms can range from mild to severe and surface in one or more of the following ways:

  • Nausea, vomiting and stomach cramps
  • Diarrhea 
  • Dizziness or feeling light-headed
  • Itchy skin or hives (raised rashes).
  • Swelling of the lips face and eyes (angioedema)
  • Shortness of breath, noisy breathing or a hoarse voice
  • Wheezing, gasp for air, hyperventilating or choking
  • Repetitive cough
  • Tight, scratchy throat; trouble swallowing
  • Swelling of the tongue, affecting the ability to talk or breathe
  • Weak pulse
  • Shock or circulatory collapse
  • Pale or blue colouring of skin
  • Anaphylaxis — a potentially life-threatening reaction that may include breathing difficulties and shock.

Read also: Why You Should Avoid Foods With High Calories. 

Types of Food Allergies

There are two primary categories of true food allergies: 

  1. The immunoglobulin E (IgE) mediated 

This type of food allergy occurs when the immune system in your body releases IgE antibodies that respond to certain foods. Your immune system uses antibodies, a kind of blood protein, to identify and combat infections. 

After consuming the food allergen, an IgE-mediated allergy reaction often happens a few hours later and can cause mild to severe symptoms, including anaphylaxis.

  1. The non-IgE mediated

While your immune system does not produce IgE antibodies in response to a non-IgE food allergy, other immune system components remain active in defending your body against the perceived threat.

After consuming the food allergen, a non-IgE mediated allergy reaction can happen from the day it happened up to three days later. It typically consists of skin or digestive symptoms or a combination of those symptoms, such as nausea, vomiting and diarrhea.

Read also: 10 Amazing Health Benefits of Mustard Seeds. 

Do Nigerians Have Food Allergies?

When the question is asked, some may say “Never, anything goes for Nigerians” or “When we never see enough food, where allergies wan come from”. On the contrary, Yes, Nigerians do have food allergies. 

Common Food Allergies in Nigeria are; 

  • Jollof Rice – Some people have an allergic reaction to Jollof rice at night (the prevalent one causes the eyes to swell). Nevertheless, you can also have Jollof rice allergies at any time.
  • Dairy Products 
  • Pineapple
  • Egg
  • Egusi
  • Fish
  • Seafood and seafood sauces, including Crayfish 
  • Certain beverages with alcohol
  • Cooking oil
  • Eba and/or Fufu or any kind of swallow 
  • Nuts and nut products – groundnut, peanuts, groundnut oil, etc.
  • Walnuts, hazelnuts, cashew nuts, almonds nuts.
  • Strawberries, banana, cucumber 
  • Butter, jam, mayonnaise, margarine etc. 
  • Slimy food like ogbono, ewedu, okro
  • Pap or Custard 
  • Chinese Food
  • Herbs, seeds and spices like Sesame seeds, coriander, parsley, ginger, garlic, etc.

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Food Allergy Treatment

Once you’ve noticed that you have a food allergy, your best defence against the allergic reaction is to simply stay away from those foods that trigger the signs and symptoms of the allergy. 

For some people, this may be a little inconvenient, but very difficult for others. Sometimes, some foods, when used as ingredients in certain dishes, may go unnoticed. This can easily happen when you eat out at restaurants and other social settings.

So, if you know you have a food allergy — follow these steps;

  • Know what you’re eating, down to the ingredients used or inform them that you’re allergic to particular food. 
  • Wear a medical alert necklace or bracelet (teal or red) — if you have already experienced a severe reaction. This lets others know that you have a food allergy in case you experience a response and cannot communicate.
  • Carry an Epinephrine or auto injector (EpiPen, Adrenaclick) just in case you eat something with the food that can cause an allergic reaction.

If you have any of the following allergic signs or symptoms, get emergency medical attention;

  • constriction of your airways that makes it difficult to breathe, 
  • a rapid drop in blood pressure accompanied by shock
  • Rapid or weak pulse 
  • Feeling light-headed or Dizzy

Read also: Healthy Living for Nigerians: Health Benefits of Deep Tissue Massage. 

Conclusion 

Even though food allergies don’t happen often around you, they still happen in Nigeria. And you can be allergic to more than one food or food ingredient. 

And while allergies can be hereditary, it is impossible to tell in advance whether a child will inherit a parent’s food allergy or whether siblings will have the same condition. So, despite the existence of medical care or instant medicine that can be administered, the primary goal of treating food allergies is to stay away from those foods or food ingredients. 

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Edited by Oluwanifemi Akintomide.

 

About Author

Avatar of Precious Nwakuba
Precious Nwakuba
I'm a Copywriter and Content Strategist with about 3 years of experience. Blending creativity with research, my skills are a tool to make your content engaging and relatable to your target audience, inspiring them to love you even more.
So, let's make your brand stand out together!

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2 comments

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