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Food allergies are an immune response (or rather an overreaction) to histamines in the body. When you eat something your immune system doesn’t recognize, it can result in a severe allergic reaction (anaphylaxis, swelling of the esophagus, or gastrointestinal issues). The severity of food allergies may vary from person to person. If you suspect you have a food allergy, you should contact your healthcare provider to get tested.Discover the common symptoms of food allergies and the available treatment options.
Common Food Allergies
If you’re worried that you may have a food allergy (or that your child may develop a food allergy), you should be on the lookout for the most common allergens. Children that suffer from asthma are more likely to have food allergies, so you’ll want to be on the lookout especially if your child suffers from respiratory conditions.
These food allergens include dairy, eggs, fish, peanuts, tree nuts, shellfish, soy, and wheat.
One of the most common food allergies is dairy — specifically cow dairy (many people allergic to cow dairy products aren’t allergic to dairy that comes from other animals, such as goat milk). This allergy is especially common in children.
If you’re allergic to cow’s milk and other dairy products, you’re most likely not allergic to the milk itself but the lactose in the milk. Yet, you may not experience severe reactions to goat’s milk, as the fat molecules are shorter in this animal’s milk, making it easier to digest.
Lactose intolerance affects between 30 and 50 million Americans, and milk allergies affect nearly 90% of Asian Americans and 75% of African Americans.
If you suffer from an egg allergy, it’s not just omelets, deviled eggs, and cakes you need to steer clear of. Eggs (including egg protein, dehydrated egg, and other forms) are hidden in foods as fillers.
Eggs are even an ingredient in some vaccines, which is why you should always disclose this allergy before getting the flu shot or other vaccinations.
If you’re allergic to eggs, you may even want to opt to get vaccines at your doctor’s office to ensure you have the correct medical help should you experience an adverse reaction.
Fish and shellfish allergies are most common in adults, and children that develop these allergies rarely grow out of them.
Shellfish allergies are the most common food allergies in the U.S.
A common allergy among kids is a peanut allergy. Many kids have started developing an allergic reaction to peanuts, nuts, and tree nuts.
Tree nuts are essentially all nuts (peanuts are in the legume family). Examples include cashews, pistachios, macadamia nuts, and pecans.
Not everyone that is allergic to peanuts is allergic to tree nuts, and not everyone that is allergic to tree nuts is allergic to coconuts.
Soy allergies are one of the most difficult because soy is in pretty much all processed foods. It comes in the form of powder, oil, and additives. It’s used as a filler (to add bulk to food without raising the cost of the product).
If you have a soy allergy, you may want to keep a close eye on food labels.
Wheat allergies are often confused with Celiac disease. Yet, not everyone allergic to wheat has Celiac disease. People with Celiac disease are allergic to gluten (which is often found in wheat).
Food Allergies Vs Oral Allergy Syndrome
Oral allergy syndrome (also known as pollen food allergy syndrome) is a type of food allergy where you’re allergic to food proteins that share commonalities with pollen proteins. This simply means that if you’re allergic to some environmental allergens (such as ragweed, dust, pollen, and grass), you may be allergic to the fruits and vegetables that share similar proteins.
The most common foods that affect people with oral allergy syndrome include:
Most people that suffer from oral allergy syndrome don’t experience extremely severe or life-threatening symptoms. Yet, some people may experience extreme pain or swelling.
If your symptoms are severe, you may want to talk to your doctor about getting an Epinephrine pen to keep on hand for emergencies.
Oral Allergy Syndrome Diagnosis
The easiest way to diagnose oral allergy syndrome is to get tested for seasonal and environmental allergies. If you’re allergic to environmental allergens and you experience uncomfortable symptoms after eating any of the foods on the above list, you probably have oral allergy syndrome.
If you want to get tested for allergies from the comfort of your own home, you can always order an at-home testing kit for seasonal allergies.
The treatment for this syndrome is similar to the treatment for other food allergies (see below). You simply want to avoid certain foods and keep an antihistamine on hand should you accidentally eat any problem foods.
Food Allergies Vs Food Intolerances
Food allergies are different from food intolerances. If you suffer from food intolerance, you may experience non-life-threatening symptoms — though these symptoms can worsen and cause other issues over time.
The most common food intolerances include:
Fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides, and polyols (FODMAPs)
Gluten (Celiac disease)
If you experience gas, bloating, pain, discomfort, diarrhea, or constipation after eating any of the above foods, you may want to get tested for intolerances. At-home test kit companies provide these tests, or your primary care provider or allergen should be able to help you make an appointment at a testing site.
Food Allergy Symptoms
The symptoms of food allergies vary from person to person (and vary depending on the specific food allergy). Yet, the most common symptoms include:
Low blood pressure
Shortness of breath
Swelling (especially in the face, mouth, and throat)
Tingling or fuzzy mouth
If you suffer from food allergies, you may experience one or a combination of symptoms. These symptoms can range from extremely mild (especially in the case of food intolerances) to severe. If your skin is turning blue or if you’re experiencing shortness of breath, you should call 911 immediately.
Mild-to-moderate symptoms will go away within a few hours to a few days.
Food Allergy Risk Factors
Some people have a higher risk of developing food allergies. Some of the most common risk factors associated with food allergies include a family history of allergies, age, history of seasonal allergies, or conditions such as asthma.
People with severe allergies may experience anaphylactic reactions to some foods, so it’s important to know how to spot these symptoms.
Researchers believe that food allergies may be inherited. Genetic testing may predict whether you develop a food allergy. If you have a family history of food allergies, you’re more likely to develop food allergies yourself.
This risk intensifies the closer the family member that suffers from allergies. If someone in your immediate family suffers from allergies, you’re more likely to suffer from them too. The second-largest risk factor group is cousins (especially same-generation cousins). Grandparents with allergies may also increase your risk of such allergies, too.
Food allergies are most common in young children, and children often grow out of these allergies as they age. According to Johns Hopkins, “Nearly 5 percent of children under the age of five years have food allergies.” Yet, the number of children under the age of 18 with allergies has increased by nearly 20% in the past few years.
Most children have allergies to dairy, nuts, and peanuts. Shellfish allergies are often life-long allergies that don’t dissipate with age, and this allergy is most common in adults.
Many children with allergies also develop conditions, such as eczema. When it comes to children, you should always talk to a pediatrician or allergist to diagnose allergies.
If you suffer from seasonal allergies, you’re also more likely to suffer from food allergies, too. Even if you don’t suffer from oral allergy syndrome, you’re more likely to develop some type of food allergy if you’re allergic to ragweed, grass, pollen, dust, or other environmental factors.
People with asthma also often suffer from allergies, and vice-versa. Both allergies and asthma are intensified in patients that suffer from these conditions simultaneously.
Food Allergy Prevention
If you suspect you’re allergic to a food (or if you’ve been tested for a food allergy), the easiest way to avoid an allergic reaction is to simply avoid certain foods. There is no ‘easy’ way to prevent food allergies other than avoiding these foods.
Depending on the severity of your allergies, you may want to only eat foods you’ve prepared or alert the cook to any allergies. Most restaurants can make accommodations for people suffering from the most common allergies, such as nuts, eggs, shellfish, peanuts, and dairy.
If your allergy is severe, you may want to avoid eating out altogether (unless you’re eating at an allergen-free restaurant). You may also want to become familiar with foods that have ‘hidden’ allergens, such as peanut oil and soy. Many cooks may not realize they’re using ingredients that contain these allergens.
Check food labels for hidden ingredients and food additives, as many processed foods contain soy, dairy, and egg fillers.
Food Allergy Diagnosis
Luckily, food allergy diagnosis is relatively easy. All you need to do is to take a food allergy test (you can also take the DNA allergy test to see if allergies run in your family). Or, you can try a food elimination diet to weed out any offenders.
Your doctor may recommend doing a food elimination diet under supervision if you’re experiencing life-threatening symptoms after eating.
Food Allergy Tests
Possibly one of the easiest ways to test for food allergies is via a food allergy/intolerance test. These tests usually include a skin prick or blood tests.
Skin prick tests insert a tiny amount of known allergens into the surface of your skin. Your skin should become red or irritated if you’re allergic to the food. These tests are always completed under doctor supervision in case you have an extreme reaction.
Your doctor may ask you to visit a lab for a blood draw allergen test and review the results with you over the phone.
You can also order an at-home allergy test kit that tests for seasonal allergies and food sensitivities. Simply order the test kit from a company like EverlyWell. The test kit will be mailed to your home. Follow the instructions; you’ll be asked to provide a small drop of blood or a saliva or urine sample. Mail your sample back to the lab, and get the results in a few days.
These tests are ideal for anyone that can’t get to a doctor’s office because of the coronavirus, fear of being exposed to sick people, or those with mobility issues.
If you don’t want to get tested for food allergies, you can always opt for a food elimination diet or food challenge to isolate problem foods. Food elimination requires you to eliminate all allergens for several weeks before slowly reintroducing them to your diet. This is one way to see if you’re allergic to a particular food.
This is the most cost-efficient option, but it’s also the most time-consuming one, too. You should also always talk to your doctor before consuming known allergens (especially if you have severe allergies).
Food Allergy Treatments
If you suffer from allergies, there are a few treatments available that could reduce inflammation, redness, swelling, hives — and possibly even save your life.
If you suffer from food sensitivities, oral allergies, or other non-life-threatening allergies, you may simply opt to take an antihistamine. There are plenty of generic and name-brands on the market that provide relief within an hour.
If you suffer from severe symptoms (particularly life-threatening ones), you may want to opt for emergency Epinephrine (brand-name Epipen). These medications are approved by the FDA for emergency use.
Simply follow the directions on the pen to administer the shot of Epinephrine. It’s important that everyone in close contact with the person suffering from allergies (especially family members and caregivers) understand how to use this life-saving medication — and how to spot the symptoms of a food allergy attack.
Oral immunotherapy is a type of therapy that introduces small amounts of allergens to the system over time.
The idea is that your body will stop seeing the allergen as a threat. Just like allergy shots, this type of therapy simply allows your body to react normally to the allergen.
Oral immunotherapy is administered with a tincture (drops placed underneath the tongue) containing allergens. Over time, your body should stop seeing the allergen as a threat.
Some anecdotal research shows that acupuncture may also help ease uncomfortable allergy symptoms. Yet, there isn’t enough research to back these claims, so most of the evidence simply remains anecdotal.
Some food allergy research suggests that there’s a connection between gut health and food allergies. Taking probiotics may help to reduce allergy symptoms or lessen the symptoms of an oral allergy syndrome.
If you don’t take probiotics, you may want to talk to your doctor to see which ones might target food allergy symptoms (in addition to supporting your gut and intestinal health).