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Why choose UCLA Health for food allergy care?
At UCLA Health, we deliver life-changing treatments and well-rounded support for people with food allergies. Highlights of our program include:
Continuum of care for children and adults: UCLA Health experts treat babies, children and adults with food allergies. About 32 million people in the U.S. have food allergies, and more than 10% of them are adults. Our patients range in age from newborns to older adults. We customize every treatment plan based on each patient’s specific needs, health and lifestyle.
Nationally recognized expertise: UCLA Health has been recognized as a Center of Excellence by Food Allergy, Research & Education (FARE) since 2015. As a member of the FARE Clinical Care Network, UCLA Health collaborates with research centers across the country. Together, we ensure that our patients have access to state-of-the-art diagnostics, treatment and research.
Expert food allergy testing: UCLA Health offers diagnostic food challenges to people of all ages. A food challenge is a diagnostic test that provides a definitive food allergy diagnosis in a safe environment. We are one of only a few medical centers in the nation to offer this test to babies and young children. Our highly skilled team can respond quickly with effective treatments should an allergic reaction occur.
Support and resources: Our team understands the challenges parents and children can face when dealing with food allergies. That’s why we created the UCLA Health Buddy Program to connect families who share similar experiences. We also offer community programs, food allergy support groups and information sessions. You’ll have support, guidance and a wide range of services available to you.
Leading-edge treatments: UCLA Health is one of only a few programs in the world that offers oral immunotherapy as a clinical treatment, not just as research. This treatment gradually increases a person’s tolerance to foods that usually cause an allergic reaction. Our unparalleled expertise allows us to deliver these treatments safely and successfully.
Clinical trials and research: As leaders in allergy and immunology, we’re at the forefront of research that explores the causes of food allergies so we can discover a cure. We work with specialists across UCLA Health to advance research, share promising clinical trials and develop leading-edge treatments.
Our areas of care
UCLA Health specialists offer the full spectrum of care for children and adults with food allergies. We’re by your side at every step, from evaluation and treatment to comprehensive support. Our services include:
Our experts specialize in delivering a precise diagnosis so you can receive the most effective treatment. We evaluate known or suspected food allergies using:
- Blood tests that check for an allergic response to specific foods
- Complete medical history, including any family history of allergies
- Information about diet, nutrition, eating habits and symptoms that appear after eating certain foods
- Physical examination
To diagnose food allergies, our team also offers skin prick tests. We place a tiny bit of an allergen (a food that might cause an allergic reaction) on the skin, usually on your arm or back. We gently scratch or “prick” the skin so that a small amount of the allergen can go under the skin’s surface. In 20 to 30 minutes, we check for signs of a reaction, which is usually a raised bump on the skin.
Your doctor may also recommend wearing a skin patch that includes a bit of the allergen for about 48 hours. You return to our office so your doctor can check your skin for a reaction.
Food challenge to diagnose food allergy
UCLA Health is one of the only medical centers in the world equipped to perform food challenges on very young children. A food challenge is a diagnostic test. After giving your child a tiny amount of a certain food, we watch for signs of a reaction. We gradually increase the amount of food over several hours. Our experienced team monitors your child for signs of an allergic reaction and delivers prompt treatment if a reaction occurs.
Our highly trained team uses food challenges to measure your child’s tolerance for certain foods in a safe environment. We also use this test to determine if a child has outgrown an allergy. Using the results of a food challenge, our team is able to deliver an accurate diagnosis and more effective treatments.
UCLA Health allergy specialists tailor every treatment for you or your child. Using medications, nutritional guidance and support, we work closely with you to develop a treatment plan. We specialize in oral immunotherapy, a new treatment that gradually increases the body’s tolerance to allergens.
Support, guidance and resources
Our compassionate team partners with your family to offer a range of support services. We are passionate about helping children with food allergies thrive. That’s why we created the UCLA Health Buddy Program, which connects families dealing with food allergies. Through this program, families share their experiences and advice, learn from each other and gain support and encouragement.
UCLA Health food allergy experts also offer webinars, information sessions and community outreach programs. We guide parents through school-age issues, including establishing an allergy action plan for caregivers and teachers. You also receive customized nutrition plans from registered dietitians.
What is a food allergy?
Food allergies happen when your body’s immune system launches an attack against a protein in a certain food. The immune system mistakenly treats the protein as a dangerous substance, even though it isn’t harmful to most people. The most common allergy-causing foods are:
- Peanuts and tree nuts
- Sesame (or tahini)
Allergic reactions can range from mild to severe. They can even be fatal. Symptoms of an allergic reaction usually appear within two hours of eating, although they can sometimes take longer to develop. In severe cases, food allergies can cause anaphylaxis, a life-threatening reaction that requires immediate medical attention. Food allergy symptoms include:
- Difficulty breathing or trouble swallowing
- Dizziness or fainting
- Feeling of dread or impending doom
- Gastrointestinal (GI) issues such as diarrhea, vomiting and abdominal cramping
- Skin rash, hives, itching, redness or irritation
- Swollen tongue, throat, lips or eyelids
In addition to immediate reactions, food allergies can also lead to chronic (long-term) digestive problems and skin issues. Some people experience chronic eczema (dry, itchy skin) as a result of an allergic reaction.
Treatments we offer
Allergy specialists at UCLA Health work closely with you to develop a customized treatment plan that fits your life. Our goal is to educate and empower you. We focus on helping you or your child live a happy, healthy life while managing a food allergy. Treatments include:
Avoidance and medications
The cornerstone of food allergy treatment is avoiding foods that cause reactions. As a team, we help you and your child establish routines to avoid allergens. We work with you to create a food allergy treatment plan to treat accidental exposures quickly using emergency medications. These medications include antihistamines and an epinephrine auto-injector (EpiPen®), which can stop severe allergic reactions.
To help you maximize nutrition while avoiding certain foods, we provide individualized dietary guidance. UCLA Health registered dietitians have extensive experience helping people of all ages manage food allergies while enjoying meals and snacks. You receive helpful guidance about:
- Ordering from restaurants
- Preventing deficiencies in vitamins and nutrients when avoiding certain foods
- Reading labels to identify allergens (even when they may be listed under a different name)
- Replacing certain foods with “safe” ingredients when cooking or baking
This treatment involves placing a small amount of an allergen on the skin and increasing the amount over several weeks or months. For example, children with a peanut allergy may wear a patch on the skin that contains peanut protein. When it comes into contact with the child’s sweat, the protein dissolves into the skin. Over time, this exposure helps the immune system build up a tolerance to peanuts.
As one of the only medical centers offering oral immunotherapy as a clinical practice, UCLA Health specialists lead the nation in this safe and effective treatment. In our office, we give you or your child small doses of a food and increase them over several weeks or months. If an allergic reaction occurs, our team is ready to respond immediately.
Over time, repeated exposure builds up your body’s tolerance to the food that previously caused an allergic reaction. Your immune system becomes desensitized. While oral immunotherapy isn’t a cure for food allergy, it can help you avoid a life-threatening allergic reaction in the future. This treatment can also give you the freedom to enjoy eating without worrying about accidental exposure.
Our team of board-certified allergists have experience caring for babies, children and adults with all types of food allergies. We work closely with UCLA Health registered dietitians to deliver comprehensive care and support to you and your family.