Over 50 million Americans have some kind of allergy, and one out of every three people say they either have a food allergy themselves or modify meals to accommodate a family member’s allergy. About 4 to 6 percent of children and about 4 percent of adults have a food allergy, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Food allergy symptoms can appear at any age, even if you’ve eaten the same kind of food for years, though food allergies are most common in babies and children. Here’s a look at the symptoms, triggers and treatment methods of food allergies.
Primary Causes and Symptoms
The immune system’s job is to protect the body from infections and other dangers. When the immune system mistakenly identifies certain foods as a danger and overreacts, a food allergy occurs. These types of allergies often run in families, but it’s impossible to predict how it will be passed down between generations.
Symptoms can range from mild to severe, and eight types of food account for about 90 percent of all food allergy reactions:
- • Eggs
- • Milk
- • Peanuts
- • Tree nuts
- • Fish
- • Shellfish
- • Wheat
- • Soy
- Symptoms of these reactions can involve the skin, the gastrointestinal tract, the cardiovascular system and the respiratory tract. Common symptoms include:
- • Vomiting or stomach cramps
- • Hives
- • Shortness of breath, wheezing or repetitive cough
- • Shock or circulatory collapse
- • Hoarse throat or trouble swallowing
- • Swelling of the tongue
- • Weak pulse
- • Pale or blue discoloration on the skin
- • Dizziness or feeling faint
- • Anaphylaxis, a serious and potentially life-threatening reaction that can send the body into shock
In most cases, symptoms begin within two hours of ingestion—many start within minutes. In rare cases, reaction may be delayed by several hours. Certain allergies can be minor and might not even stop someone from being able to eat that food.
Once you’ve identified a food allergy, the best treatment is to avoid it and other related foods. Foods like milk, eggs and peanuts are those most associated with food allergies in children, though they may outgrow reactions to milk and eggs. For adults, fish and shellfish, peanuts, tree nuts and fruit or vegetable pollen are the most common triggers.
An allergist can diagnose food allergies using either a skin test or a blood test. A positive result doesn’t necessarily indicate an allergy, though a negative one will help rule one out.
In some cases, an oral food challenge will be done. This is a strictly supervised test where the patient is fed tiny amounts of the suspected trigger, amounts that increase over time. An observation period follows to see if a reaction occurs. This test is helpful when other tests are unclear, and it’s considered the most accurate diagnosis method.
The primary management method for a food allergy is avoidance. Here are some tips:
- • Always check product ingredient labels, and learn all the names for the triggers you need to avoid.
- • Get advice on getting the nutrients you need despite avoiding certain foods—your doctor can help.
- • Be extra careful while eating out at restaurants, and consider a “chef card” that identifies your allergy and what you can’t eat.
- • Keep an auto-injector (EpiPen) on you at all times if a serious reaction is a risk.
- • If you have children with severe food allergies, be sure that their school has an emergency plan, and keep an auto-injector with them.
Research on prevention of allergies is mixed, though new guidelines for peanut allergies have made prevention of this particular allergy more realistic in some cases. There are no current treatments for allergies beyond avoiding trigger foods, though clinical trials are being conducted here.
If you or your child is showing symptoms of a new food allergy, your doctor can offer recommendations for managing and avoiding triggers.
Our Utah Valley allergy specialists are able to diagnose and treat patients who suffer from allergic and immunologic disorders. Our board-certified physicians have over 30 years of combined experience working with pediatric and adult patients with a variety of medical problems using the most comprehensive and up-to-date medical therapies.
“Food Allergy.” American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology. http://acaai.org/allergies/types/food-allergy
“Food Allergies and Food Intolerance.” WebMD. http://www.webmd.com/allergies/food-allergy-intolerances#1