When a person’s immune system reacts to the otherwise harmless substances in food and drinks, it may be a food allergy. According to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA), people with food allergies have “super-sensitive immune systems.” Antibodies to the otherwise harmless substances (also known as allergens) are present in the blood and throughout the body. When a person with a food allergy eats something to which he or she is allergic, “the food allergens react to antibodies on cells releasing chemicals,” explains the AAFA.
Affected by food allergies. The Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Network (FAAN) reports 9 million adults have food allergies, while nearly 6 million children suffer from food allergies. Food allergies tend to emerge in childhood, but some adults may find themselves developing a specific food allergy to a food that was once okay for them to eat. Some children will outgrow their food allergies, usually before age four.
Food allergy symptoms. When you eat a food and experience any allergy-type symptoms such as intestinal cramping and vomiting, diarrhea, hives, or swelling of the mouth, tongue or throat, it might be a food allergy. Severe symptoms can include loss of consciousness, difficulty breathing and decreased blood pressure. Severe food allergies can even be fatal. The FAAN states that food allergy symptoms will generally appear any time after eating, from within minutes to two hours.
Food allergy or food intolerance? A food allergy can trigger several immune system reactions such as swelling, hives, difficulty breathing and intense stomach cramping. For some people, these symptoms are severe and can be life-threatening. Usually just a small amount of food can trigger the food allergy symptoms. Food intolerance, however, doesn’t involve the immune system. When you’re food intolerant, your symptoms may take longer to appear after eating the offending food and won’t be as severe. Food intolerance also means you can usually eat small amounts of the food without any reaction.
Most common food allergies. The American Academy of Allergy Asthma and Immunology (AAAAI) lists eight items as the foods that trigger most allergies. These foods are cow’s milk, eggs, fish, peanuts, shellfish, soy, tree nuts and wheat. The Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protect Act (FALCPA) requires the eight most common food allergens be listed in the products ingredient list or within a specific allergen statement.
Treatment. There are no medications available to prevent food allergies, but some symptoms can be treated with over-the-counter medications such as antihistamines. However, it’s essential to consult with your doctor or allergist before taking any medication. People with severe food allergies should always keep an epinephrine dosage on them to help prevent anaphylactic shock. Avoiding trigger foods is the safest and most effective way to prevent food allergy symptoms.