When your immune system overreacts to a particular protein found in a food, you have a food allergy. Sometimes symptoms can occur when coming in contact with a tiny amount of the food.
Food allergies are frequently diagnosed initially in young children, but may also appear in older children and adults.
A majority of allergic reactions can be attributed primarily to eight foods:
- Tree nuts
- Cow’s milk
People who think they are allergic to a particular food are frequently just intolerant to it. Symptoms of food intolerance and food allergy are similar, but differences between the two are extremely important. Food allergy reactions can be life-threatening, so patients with this type of allergy must avoid their food triggers at all cost.
Known as cross-reactivity, an allergy to one particular food may also result in being allergic to a similar protein found in another substance. For example, a patient allergic to ragweed may also develop reactions to bananas or melons. Cross reactivity occurs when the immune system thinks one protein is closely related to another. When foods are involved, it’s called oral allergy syndrome (OAS).
While children often outgrow a food allergy, it’s possible for adults to develop allergies to specific foods.
Food Protein-Induced Enterocolitis Syndrome (FPIES) also referred to as a delayed food allergy, is a severe condition that causes vomiting and diarrhea. Sometimes symptoms can progress to dehydration and shock cause by low blood pressure and poor circulation.
FPIES allergic reactions are triggered by ingesting a food allergen. Any food can be a trigger, the most common offenders include milk, soy and grains. FPIES usually develops in infancy when a baby is introduced to formula or solid food.
Eosinophilic Esophagitis is an allergic condition causing inflammation of the esophagus. Research suggests the leading cause of EoE is a food allergy or a sensitivity to a particular protein found in food. A family history of allergic disorders such as asthma, rhinitis, dermatitis or food allergy is common in patients with EoE.
Although they can sometimes appear a few hours after eating a trigger food, allergic reactions typically occur within minutes. Food allergy symptoms include:
- Hives or itchy, red skin
- Itchy or stuffy nose, itchy, teary eyes, or sneezing
- Angioedema or swelling
- Vomiting, stomach cramps or diarrhea
Food allergies may cause a severe reaction called anaphylaxis, whose signs include:
- Tingling in the hands, feet, lips or scalp
- Wheezing, tightness in the chest or trouble breathing
- Throat tightness, a lump in the throat, or hoarseness
If you experience any of these symptoms call 9-1-1 emergency immediately.
It’s extremely important to properly diagnose food allergies. If our doctors suspect a food allergy, we will order skin tests or blood tests. Frequently a food challenge under the care of your allergist may also be needed to confirm a food allergy.
Food Allergy Treatment & Management
The first step to managing a food allergy is getting a proper diagnosis. If you are diagnoses with a particular food allergy, part of the treatment plan is strict avoidance of that food. On the other hand, an intolerance may allow the patient to eat small quantities of a food without having a reaction.
Food allergies have no cure, and there are no medications to prevent reactions. There are, however, important steps to manage a food allergy. The most important is avoiding any contact with food proteins that cause allergic reaction.
Food labels must be read to ensure the patient doesn’t ingest foods that contain an allergen. In restaurants, always ask about ingredients to be sure your trigger isn’t included. You should also ask anytime you’re eating in an unfamiliar environment, such as a family function or party.
An Anaphylaxis Action Plan is a must for patients with severe food allergies, and epinephrine should be carried by the patient at all times in the event of an anaphylactic reaction.
Antihistamines may help relieve symptoms for milder reactions.
Food allergies can be isolating and confusing, Contact the Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Network (FAAN) for additional information and patient support.