Many people believe they experience food allergy symptoms

Food allergy symptoms are caused by an exaggerated immune response triggered by eggs, peanuts, milk, or some other specific food. Normally, your body's immune system defends against potentially harmful substances, such as bacteria, viruses, and toxins. In some people, an immune response is triggered by a substance that is generally harmless, such as a specific food.

The cause of food allergies is not fully understood, because they can produce such a variety of symptoms. Reactions to foods may vary from mild to fatal.

While many people have a food intolerance, food allergy symptoms are less common. In a true food allergy, the immune system produces antibodies and histamine in response to the specific food.

The food allergy symptoms may be confined mainly to the stomach and intestines, or may involve many parts of the body after the food is digested or absorbed. The symptoms usually begin immediately, seldom more than 2 hours after eating. Rarely, the symptoms may begin hours after eating the offending food.

Asthma, eczema, or other disorders may be triggered or worsened by food allergies.

Any food can cause an allergic reaction, but a few foods are the main culprits. A food allergy frequently starts in childhood, but it can begin at any age. In children, the most common food allergies are to eggs, peanuts, milk, soy, tree nuts, wheat, shellfish (shrimp, crab, lobster, snails, clams). Fortunately, many children will outgrow their allergy to milk, egg, wheat, and soy by the time they are five years old if they avoid the offending foods when they are young. Allergies to peanuts, tree nuts, and shellfish tend to be lifelong.

It is controversial whether food additives such as dyes, thickeners, and preservatives likely cause a true allergic reaction.

Many Americans believe they have food allergies, while in reality fewer than 1% have true allergies. Most people's food allergy symptoms are caused by intolerances to foods such as wheat and other gluten-containing grains, cow's milk and dairy products and corn products.

The following food allergy symptoms may occur after eating an offending food:

  • scratchy throat
  • anaphylaxis (a severe, whole-body allergic reaction that can result in death)
  • abdominal pain
  • diarrhea
  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • stomach cramps
  • itching of the mouth, throat, eyes, skin, or any area
  • hives
  • angioedema (swelling of the eyelids, face, lips, and tongue)
  • light-headedness or fainting
  • nasal congestion
  • runny nose
  • shortness of breath
  • wheezing
  • difficulty swallowing

If you develop food allergy symptoms shortly after eating a specific food, you may have a food allergy. Key signs include hives, hoarse voice, and wheezing. In severe reactions, you may have low blood pressure and blocked airways.

A blood test to identify elevated antibody levels (particularly IgE) can confirm that you have an allergy.

The food causing the allergy can sometimes be identified by:

  • Food elimination diets : the suspected food is eliminated from the diet until the symptoms disappear, then reintroduced to see if allergic reaction develops. This method is not foolproof but may be used to narrow the list of suspected foods.
  • Food provocation diet.
  • Skin tests.
  • RAST test : blood tests for antibodies to a specific allergen.

The only proven treatment for a food allergy is to avoid the food! If you suspect you or your child has a food allergy, consult an allergy specialist.

If you have food allergy symptoms confined to one area of the body (for example, a hive on the chin after eating the specific food), you may not need any treatment. The symptoms will subside in a brief time. Antihistamines may relieve the discomfort.

Soothing skin creams may provide some relief.

Avoiding the offending foods may be easy if the food is uncommon or easily identified. However, success may involve a severely restricted diet and often requires diligent reading of all package ingredients and detailed inquiries when eating away from home. Children may outgrow allergies to milk, egg, wheat, and soy.

There is no known prevention of food allergy symptoms except to maintain your immune system at the highest level.

Learn how to boost your immune system and prevent food allergy symptoms


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