Are food allergies a pre-existing condition?
If you’re not already familiar with insurance jargon, ‘pre-existing conditions’ is a term insurers use to describe any health condition you have prior to securing a health insurance plan. Unsurprisingly, insurers are less willing to cover individuals with pre-existing conditions, as this means there’s a higher likelihood of claims being made.
So, where does that leave those with food allergies? In this Pacific Prime Hong Kong article, we’ll tell you everything you need to know about food allergies and whether it’s a pre-existing condition. In addition to this, we’ll also give you information about securing health insurance if you’ve got a food allergy.
Understanding food allergies
Allergies are when an otherwise harmless substance (allergens) causes the body’s immune system to react inappropriately (allergic reaction). As such, food allergies are simply a type of allergy, with the eight most common food allergens being milk byproducts, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts (pecans, walnuts, pistachio, pine nuts), seafood, shellfish, soy, and wheat.
Typically, the symptoms of allergic reactions can include mouth swelling, itchy skin, rashes, diarrhea, vomiting, breathlessness, cough, or even fatalities such as difficulty in breathing and a rapid drop in blood pressure. In more serious cases, anaphylaxis can occur, which is a life-threatening reaction that causes the body to go into shock.
Individuals may experience allergic reactions in only a couple of minutes, half an hour, a day, a week, or even two weeks. What’s more, the amount of allergen that causes a reaction can also differ. For the most sensitive individuals, the smell of the allergen is enough to trigger symptoms.
The situation in Hong Kong
A 2012 study reveals that the prevalence of food allergy in children aged 14 and below in Hong Kong was 4.8%, based on a survey of 7,393 children. The study found that shellfish was the most common allergen, which accounted for more than a third of all reactions, followed by hen’s egg (14.5%), dairy products (10.8%), peanuts (8.5%), and combined fruits (8.5%). The rate of anaphylaxis was also high, as 15.6% of those suffering from adverse reactions had it.
Note: When it comes to adults in Hong Kong, there is very little data on the prevalence of allergies. As only a minority of children will grow out of their allergic diseases, the problem will likely persist into adulthood.
Testing to diagnose food allergies
So, how can individuals find out if they’ve got a food allergy? If an individual has a suspected case of food allergy, the doctor will take into account the symptoms, family history of food allergies, and conduct a physical examination in order to exclude other medical problems. The following tests can also be taken to identify the food allergen:
- Skin test: A small amount of the suspected food is placed on your skin, which is pricked with a needle to allow a tiny amount of the substance beneath your skin. If you develop a raised bump or a reaction, then you’re most likely allergic to the substance.
- Blood test: A sample of your blood is taken and sent to the lab for testing. The test checks your blood for allergy-related antibodies known as immunoglobulin E (IgE) to measure your immune system’s responses to particular foods.
- Elimination diet: You may be asked to eliminate suspected food for a week or two, before adding the food items back into your diet one at a time. This process can help link symptoms back to the food, though it isn’t a foolproof method.
Note: Elimination diet can’t differ between food allergy and food sensitivity. If you’ve had a severe reaction in the past, an elimination diet may not be safe.
- Oral food challenge: In the doctor’s office, you may be given small amounts of suspected foods to consume. If you don’t develop an allergic reaction during the test, you may be able to include this food in your diet again.
Managing food allergies
Currently, there are no cures for a food allergy. To manage the food allergy, individuals are urged to avoid the food as a precautionary measure. If the food is consumed accidentally, antihistamines can help treat mild symptoms such as itching and hives. For severe symptoms or breathing difficulties (like throat swelling or wheezing), an epinephrine injection and/or hospitalization will be required.
Pre-existing conditions and food allergies
Now to the big question: are food allergies a pre-existing condition? If the condition has been unstable within the look-back period (typically, a period of time before the effective date of the policy), then the food allergy is likely to be a pre-existing condition. This includes having a change in treatment, advice, or prescription. On the other hand, if the condition remained stable, then the food allergy isn’t likely to be a pre-existing condition.
Pre-existing conditions insurance
Furthermore, while insurers are typically wary of pre-existing conditions, it’s possible to find plans with pre-existing coverage. Most of the time, they’ll attach a waiting period, which means the policyholder will need to wait a specific period of time before being eligible for coverage. It’s also likely that insurers may charge a higher premium than usual.
Note: Given this, parents are advised to secure health insurance for their children early on, in case they develop an allergy. If you have a maternity insurance plan, you can also benefit from newborn coverage.
Need to secure a health insurance plan? Get in touch with Pacific Prime Hong Kong
Comparing and selecting health insurance is no easy feat – a task made even more difficult if you’ve got a pre-existing condition. Fortunately, health insurance brokers like Pacific Prime Hong Kong can help. With over two decades of experience in the insurance industry, we partner with the top insurers in the region to bring you vetted plans.
Whether you’re looking for individual health insurance, family health insurance, maternity health insurance, or any other health insurance plan in Hong Kong, you can reach out to us. Our friendly and knowledgeable experts keep in mind your needs and budgets, providing you with an impartial consultation, health insurance comparison, and no-obligation quote!
Contact us today!
Outside of work, Suphanida enjoys traveling to new places and immersing herself in different cultures.
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