With a true passion for educating families and medical professionals about allergies, Dr. Tshegofatso Mabelane is the first HPCSA-certified Family Physician Allergist in South Africa.

MamaMagic Milestones takes 2 minutes to get some burning allergy questions answered. In our next issue, we dive into allergies on the rise, their symptoms, and how to help your little one manage them.

What is an allergy?

I love to give the example that an allergy is an immune system being naughty. It re-categorizes something meant to be innocent and starts releasing IgE antibodies as a response. The person begins responding with specific symptoms depending on which part of the body it manifests, for example, skin, lungs, nose, gut, or general body response.

In your opinion, what’s the worst allergy to have?

Medication or drug allergy is likely the worst to have in my opinion.

Are allergies genetic?

Indeed. Allergies are hereditary. If you have a parent with an allergy, you have a 50% chance of having an allergy. If you have two parents with allergies, you have a 75% chance of having an allergy.

Will allergies be noticed during infancy?

Not always. Let’s discuss atopic allergy. An atopic allergy is a tendency to produce IgE antibodies to ordinary proteins. An atopic allergy can be triggered and expressed at any point in life.

Should we all have our babies tested at birth?

It’s not quite that simple. For instance, a blood or skin test is conducted, and you will test positive when you are atopic. As we have very few allergy specialists in South Africa, the subject of allergies is not taught as an undergraduate subject at most medical universities, which means when the doctor sees the positive results, a patient may be  diagnosed as being allergic and here’s the exciting bit- you are not positive for allergies until you react. The key is that you must develop reproducible symptoms.

That’s so interesting. How is this relevant for parents?

Understanding how to interpret a positive result, plus symptoms should be very reassuring for parents. Many mothers and children are afraid just because their blood results are positive. What is critical to know is that if your child is not reacting, they are not positive. They have essentially just tested positive for the IgE antibody. The correct term to use in this instance is sensitisation and not allergy.

What is the difference between  food allergy and a food intolerance?

That’s such an important question. Food allergy is an immune system reacting to food protein typically considered harmless to the average person. With an intolerance, mainly the digestive system is affected.

What are the symptoms of a food allergy versus a food intolerance?

When it comes to allergies, usually you would notice symptoms that include the following:

  • Intense itching
  • Rash/hives
  • Swelling of the face
  • Itchy, stuffed or runny nose
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Stomach cramps
  • Diarrhoea
  • Cough
  • Wheeze
  • Increased anxiety
  • Light-headedness/dizziness
  • Anaphylaxis and that’s a severe life threatening reaction.

For a food intolerance be on the lookout for a lot of bowl-movement symptoms and the following common symptoms:

  • Nausea
  • Bloated
  • Diarrhoea or constipation
  • Fatigue

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*More on Dr Mabelane: Having successfully completed the allergy exam with the European Academy of Allergy and Clinical Immunology under the European Union of Medical Specialists, Dr. Mabelane serves as an executive committee member of the Allergy Society of South Africa, and is the Chairperson of the Diploma in Allergy for the College of Medicine South Africa and Food allergy committee member for the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology.

Her research in allergy led to the diagnosis of the 4th largest cohort in the world with red meat allergy.

Published author of “Basics of Allergy in Primary Care.”