What is a Food Allergy?
Our immune system is responsible for fighting off infections and other dangers to good health to keep us healthy.
When our body’s immune system sees a certain food as harmful and reacts against it by causing specific symptoms, we call it a food allergy or an allergic reaction.
In other words, a food allergy reaction occurs when your immune system over-reacts to a food or a substance in a food, identifying it as a danger and triggering a protective response.
All those foods that cause allergic reactions are termed as allergens.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, food allergies are estimated to affect 4 to 6 percent of children and 4 percent of adults. There’s no cure for food allergies. As their immune systems get stronger, some children outgrow their food allergy as they get older.
Food allergies tend to run in families. Although they’re more common in babies and children, yet food allergy symptoms can appear at any age. Your immune system can react to a food that you may have eaten for years.
Foods that Cause Allergies:
Although any type of food can cause an unfavorable reaction, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, eight types of food are responsible for about 90% of all reactions. Those foods are:
- Tree nuts
- Certain Seeds (including sesame and mustard seeds)
Symptoms of an allergic reaction may involve the following areas:
- the brain
- the skin
- the eyes
- the gastrointestinal tract
- the cardiovascular system
- the respiratory tract
Symptoms of Food Allergies
Food allergies related reactions can show up in one or more of the following ways:
- Stomach pain, vomiting, diarrhea
- Shortness of breath, trouble breathing, wheezing, repetitive cough
- Shock or circulatory collapse
- Skin rash, itching, hives
- Swelling of the lips, tongue or throat
- Tight, hoarse throat; trouble swallowing
- Weak pulse
- Pale or blue coloring of skin
- Dizziness or feeling faint
- Feeling like something bad is about to happen
Symptoms Communicated by Children with Food Allergies:
- It feels like something is poking my tongue.
- My tongue (or mouth) is tingling (or burning).
- My tongue (or mouth) itches.
- My tongue feels like there is hair on it.
- My mouth feels funny.
- There’s a frog in my throat; there’s something stuck in my throat.
- My tongue feels full (or heavy).
- My lips feel tight.
- It feels like there are bugs in there (to describe itchy ears).
- It (my throat) feels thick.
- It feels like a bump is on the back of my tongue (throat).
Reactions related to food allergens show up within two hours of ingesting food; they’ve also been seen to start within minutes. While in very rare cases they may appear after four to six hours or even longer, like up to three days after ingesting the food allergen.
People having food allergies can have mild to severe symptoms. In other words, all reactions may not be similar in a person having food allergies. They can range from mild to severe on different occasions.
How to Tackle Food Allergies
The first and most important step to tackle a food allergy is to have it diagnosed. If done right, skin tests or blood tests are reliable and can rule in or out food allergy.
Once diagnosed, the best treatment is to avoid the food that’s causing the allergy.
Milk, eggs, and peanuts are the most common triggers of allergic reactions in children. While they may outgrow their allergic reactions to milk and eggs, reactions to peanuts and tree nuts are likely to persist.
On the other hand, the most common food allergens in grown-ups are peanuts and tree nuts, fruit and vegetable pollen, and fish and shellfish.
If you’re allergic to a specific food, you may also be allergic to related foods. For example, people who are allergic to shrimp, may react to crab and lobster as well.
Consulting a board certified allergist can help you be aware about patterns of cross-reactivity, hence you could avoid all those foods that can invoke allergic reactions in your body.
Food allergies are not curable and in some cases they can be dangerous, but having them diagnosed correctly and with the help of a board certified allergist, you can tackle them without compromising your health and quality of your life.