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An allergic reaction to a particular food, for some people, may be uncomfortable but not severe. For other people, an allergic food reaction can be frightening and even life-threatening. In this article, you’ll find out what a food allergy is, what are the symptoms of food allergies, what are the causes and more.
What Is A Food Allergy
Food allergy is an immune system reaction that occurs soon after eating a certain food. Even a tiny amount of the allergy-causing food can trigger signs and symptoms such as digestive problems, hives or swollen airways. In some people, a food allergy can cause severe symptoms or even a life-threatening reaction known as anaphylaxis.
It’s caused by your immune system wrongly recognizing some proteins in food as harmful. Your body then launches a range of protective measures, including releasing chemicals like histamine, which causes inflammation.
Even eating a tiny amount of the offending food can trigger an allergic reaction, which may involve anything from hives or eczema to swollen lips, stomach troubles to difficulty breathing, and even death.
Symptoms Of Food Allergies
Food allergy symptoms usually develop within a few minutes to two hours after eating the offending food.
°The most common food allergy signs and symptoms include:
- Tingling or itching in the mouth
- Hives, itching or eczema
- Stomach cramps, nausea, or vomiting
°More serious symptoms include:
- Swelling of the lips, face, tongue and throat or other parts of the body
- Wheezing, nasal congestion or trouble breathing
- Abdominal pain, diarrhea, nausea or vomiting
- Dizziness, lightheadedness or fainting
Most people assume that they do not have to worry if they have a mild response to a particular food. But sometimes allergic reactions to food increase in intensity over time.
°The most serious reaction to a food allergen is anaphylaxis.
This life-threatening allergic reaction can significantly impact your ability to breathe, drop your blood pressure, and alter your heart rate.
This can cause life-threatening signs and symptoms, including:
- Constriction and tightening of the airways
- A swollen throat or the sensation of a lump in your throat that makes it difficult to breathe
- Shock with a severe drop in blood pressure
- Rapid pulse
- Dizziness, lightheadedness or loss of consciousness
Anaphylaxis can occur within minutes of exposure to the trigger food. Emergency treatment is critical for anaphylaxis. Untreated, anaphylaxis can cause a coma or even death.
Like any other allergy, food allergy happens because the body has a negative response to a substance it is exposed to – in this case, food (or more precisely, in most cases, proteins in food).
Your immune system stands ready to fight any substances that it deems could be harmful to you. It does this by producing immunoglobulin E (IgE) antibodies that prompt cells to release chemicals to combat the “intruders.” With a food allergy, your body misinterprets something you eat or drink as being an enemy worthy of attack, despite the food or beverage being perfectly harmless. The result is an allergic reaction.
Which Food Allergies Are Most Common?
More than 90% of food allergies are caused by proteins in eight different foods.2 These include:
- Milk: A food allergy to milk is caused by the proteins contained in casein and whey. This allergy is different from lactose intolerance, which is due to an inability to digest carbohydrate in milk rather than an allergy. Milk allergy is typically diagnosed in the first year of life, but most children outgrow it by age 5. It is the most common food allergy in American children.
- Eggs: Egg allergy is the second most common food allergy among kids. More than 80% of kids will outgrow egg allergy before age five. Some also may have a reaction to hidden egg ingredients.
- Soy: Soy allergy is generally mild, and most children outgrow it in the first few years of life. However, reactions can be severe, and children allergic to soy often have a milk allergy as well.
- Wheat: One in five children allergic to wheat also will have an allergy to another grain. Most children outgrow this food allergy in the first few years of life. It is uncommon for adults to be allergic to wheat.
- Peanuts: This food allergy is generally considered much more serious because rates of anaphylaxis are greater than with other food allergies. One in four people with a peanut allergy also have a tree nut allergy.
- Tree nuts: Because this food allergy often coexists with a peanut allergy, you also will need to avoid peanuts if this affects you. While you can be allergic to just one tree nut, it is generally recommended that you avoid all tree nuts including walnuts, pecans, pistachios, hazelnuts, and almonds. Although many kids are born with this food allergy, people who have never had an issue with nuts may develop an allergy to tree nuts later in life.
- Fish: This food allergy is more likely to develop as an adult.2 The most common offenders are salmon, tuna, and halibut. Like tree nuts, you can have an allergy to one fish and not others, but generally it is recommended that you avoid all fish.
- Shellfish: Similar to fish allergy, a shellfish allergy is more common in adults. Both crustaceans and molluscs can be problematic. These reactions tend to be severe. While you can have a reaction to only one kind of shellfish, it is generally recommended that you avoid all shellfish. Thus, if you have a shellfish allergy, you need to avoid shrimp, crab, lobster, clams, oysters, mussels, and scallops.
When to see a doctor
If you have food allergy symptoms shortly after eating you should see a doctor. If possible, see your doctor when the allergic reaction is occurring. This will help your doctor make a diagnosis.
Seek emergency treatment if you develop any signs or symptoms of anaphylaxis, such as:
- Constriction of airways that makes it difficult to breathe
- Shock with a severe drop in blood pressure
- Rapid pulse
- Dizziness or lightheadedness
First and foremost, if you have a confirmed food allergy, you need to eliminate all the offending foods from your diet, as well as any foods made with or containing those ingredients. Medication can be used to ease symptoms and to address a severe allergic reaction.
Start reading the labels on everything you eat and ask about ingredients at restaurants. Also, never assume that food is safe. Food allergens may be present in the most unlikely foods (and self-care products).
Thank you for reading this article. If you have any question, or want to leave a comment – impression, suggestion, your thoughts, experience… please do so in the comment section below, and I’ll be happy to help you out.