What are food allergies?
Food allergy is your immune system’s response that occurs soon after eating a specific food. Even a minimal amount of allergy-causing food may cause symptoms and signs such as digestive problems, swollen airways, or hives. In some people, a food allergy can result in severe symptoms or even a life-threatening reaction called anaphylaxis.
Even children can be allergic to some foods. Food allergy affects about 8% of children less than three years old and up to 10% of adults. Some children outgrow their food allergy symptoms as they become older. It’s easy to confuse a food allergy using a more common reaction called food intolerance. While bothersome, food intolerance is a less severe condition that doesn’t involve the immune system.
On the other hand, people with a food allergy have an immune system that reacts to specific proteins found in food. Their immune system attacks these chemicals like it were a dangerous pathogen, such as a virus or bacterium. Diagnosing food allergies can be challenging. There is no cure for food allergies.
Food allergy symptoms
Symptoms of food allergy
For some individuals, an allergic reaction to a particular food could be embarrassing but not severe. For other individuals, an allergic reaction can be downright life-threatening. Food allergy symptoms usually appear within a few minutes to 2 hours after eating the offending food. The most common food allergy symptoms and signs include:
– itching or tingling in the mouth
– nasal congestion or difficulty breathing
– welling of the tongue, lips, face, and throat or other parts
– abdominal pain, diarrhea, nausea or vomiting
– lightheadedness or fainting
Symptoms of anaphylaxis: Anaphylaxis means a severe allergic reaction. It typically occurs shortly after exposure to the particular allergen but might take a couple of hours. Symptoms come on quickly and can worsen and contain:
– a quick fall in blood pressure
– fear, a sense of apprehension
– itchy, tickly throat
– respiratory difficulties, which frequently become progressively worse
– skin is itchy with a rash that spreads quickly
– lack of consciousness
Food allergy triggers
Common food allergy triggers
Common foods to trigger allergic reactions in children include wheat, peanuts, soya, milk, and eggs.
In adults, they are forms of peanuts, fish, Some shellfish, such as lobster, crab, and prawns, tree nuts, like pistachios, Brazil nuts, walnuts, almonds, and peanuts.
The most common allergenic foods are:
– nuts from trees (like hazelnuts, walnuts, almonds, and Brazil nuts)
– peanuts (groundnuts)
– shellfish (like shrimps, mussels, and crab)
Food allergy vs. food intolerance difference
Food allergy vs. intolerance
Experts have discovered that many people who believe they have a food allergy really have a food intolerance, which isn’t the same thing. Food intolerances don’t involve IgE antibodies, though other areas of the immune system might be involved.
Symptoms may be immediate or delayed and be similar to those of food allergies. Unlike an allergy that’s simply in reaction to a protein, food intolerance may occur because of proteins, compounds, carbohydrates in meals, or by a deficiency of enzymes or compromised intestinal permeability.
The individual can typically eat small quantities of that particular food without being changed. The exclusion is someone with Celiac disease.
These examples or cases are often confused for food allergies:
Celiac Disorder: a long-term autoimmune digestive condition that’s brought on by the use of gluten. The individual may have diarrhea, stomach pains, and bloating, though many patients are asymptomatic. There’s immune system involvement, but experts say it’s a food intolerance, not an allergy.
Enzymes: The individual doesn’t have an enzyme (or enough of it) to digest food correctly. As an example, lactose intolerance causes gas, diarrhea, cramping, and bloating.
Food Additive sensitivity: sulfites which can be used for maintaining dried fruits or canned foods.
Psychological Variables: some people may feel sick just thinking about specific food. Nobody is quite sure why this occurs.
But with a food allergy, even a small amount of food is very likely to activate the immune system. A food allergy may lead to fainting, vertigo, dizziness, respiratory problems, swelling of different areas of the body, like the throat, tongue, and face, and hives. The patient may also experience tingling in the mouth.
Food Allergy vs. Food Sensitivity
The immune system goes into an active state when it finds a harmful substance. It does that by creating antibodies. Whenever someone has a food allergy, their immune system identifies a particular protein as dangerous and fights it off with specific antibodies. Food allergies occur when your immune system reacts to a specific protein in food or a group of foods. This allergy results in a set of symptoms, including skin rashes and breathing issues.
Food intolerances aren’t an immune system response. They relate to trouble digesting foods. Food intolerances occur due to the deficiency of an enzyme required to digest certain foods or, occasionally, as a response to additives or naturally occurring chemicals in foods. People who have some food intolerances may be able to consume tiny amounts of the foods that are bothersome. However, when they have too much, their body responds. For instance, many individuals with lactose intolerance find they can drink a little bit of milk with meals or eat yogurt or other foods that are lower in lactose without experiencing any symptoms.
Food sensitivity has no conventional medical definition. It may be used to mean anything. At times, this expression can be used rather than food intolerance, like sulfite sensitivity and histamine sensitivity. Other times, it’s used as a catchphrase that contains both food allergies and intolerances. If you think you may have a food allergy or intolerance, talk to your medical care provider. Talk about your symptoms so that other potential conditions can be ruled out.
Testing for food allergies
Tests performed by your doctor can include:
Skin Prick test – diluted foods are placed on the patient’s arm, and then the skin is pierced, introducing the food to the system. If there is a response, such as itching, swelling, or redness, it’s likely there’s some type of allergy. Skin prick testing can sometimes create False-negative or false-positive outcomes.
Elimination Diet – suspected foods aren’t consumed for 4-6 weeks to see whether symptoms disappear. They are then reintroduced to confirm if symptoms return. Elimination diets should be monitored by a doctor or dietitian.
Food Journal – patients write down what they eat and describe symptoms should they occur.
Blood Test – a patient’s blood is drawn to test for IgE antibodies that are specific to specific food proteins.
Food allergy risk factors & complications
Food allergy risk factors include:
– Family history. You’re at a higher risk of food allergies if eczema, asthma, hives, or allergies like hay fever are common in your family.
– Age. Food allergies are more common in children, particularly toddlers and babies. As you age, your digestive system matures, and your body is less likely to absorb food that triggers allergies. Luckily, children typically outgrow allergies to milk, soy, eggs, and wheat. Severe allergies and allergies to shellfish and nuts are more likely to be lifelong.
– Asthma. Asthma and food allergy symptoms commonly occur together. When they perform, both food allergy and asthma symptoms are more likely to be acute.
– Other allergies. If you are already allergic to food, you might be at a higher risk of becoming allergic to another. Likewise, if you have different kinds of allergic reactions, such as hay fever or eczema, your risk of having a food allergy is higher.
Complications of food allergy can include:
– Anaphylaxis. This is a life-threatening allergic response.
– Atopic dermatitis (eczema). Food allergy can cause a skin reaction, such as eczema.
Food allergy prevention
Once a food allergy has developed, the best way to avoid an allergic reaction would be to understand and avoid foods that cause symptoms and signs. For some individuals, this is a mere inconvenience, but others find it a more considerable hardship. Additionally, some foods may be well-hidden in certain meals at restaurants.
If you know you have a specific food allergy, try some guidelines:
– If you had a severe reaction in the past, wear a medical alert bracelet that lets others know about your food allergy if you have a reaction, and you are not able to communicate.
– Always have some medication after consulting with your doctor
– Understand what you are eating and drinking. Make sure to read food labels carefully.
– Be cautious at restaurants. Be certain your server knows the food you’re allergic to, and you will need to insist the meal does not contain it.
Many people think that a response to a food sensitivity is limited to digestive issues, but listed below are seven unsuspecting and very unexpected signals that you may have a sensitivity:
Headaches (Common offenders: Processed foods, cured meats)
Weight Gain (Common culprits: Processed carbohydrates, added sugars, highly processed meats)
Infection (Common offenders: corn, gluten, dairy, soy)
Joint Pain and Muscle Aches (Common culprits: milk, eggs, soy, gluten, corn, yeast, sugar, peanuts)
Mood Swings (Common culprits: Wheat, dairy, fruit)
Stress and Dizziness (Common culprits: Fermented foods (wine, aged cheese, cured meats))
Elimination Diet: many individuals need to visit a dietitian after being diagnosed with a food allergy. It’s important if food has to be removed from one’s diet, that it’s done in a manner that doesn’t undermine the person’s health.
For example, if the allergy is just to peanuts, there’ll be no health effects if the person never eats peanuts. But, an allergy to milk means finding other sources of calcium and protein. Patients will need to read food and beverage labels carefully. Some additives, pet foods, glues, and adhesives might have traces of a food allergen. When eating out, being cautious can be particularly tricky.
You should consult a doctor or allergist if you have food allergy symptoms soon after eating. If possible, visit your doctor once the allergic reaction is occurring. If you develop symptoms of anaphylaxis, seek emergency treatment, for example, if you experience:
– Shock with a severe drop of blood pressure
– Rapid pulse
– Constriction of airways or difficulty to breathe
– Dizziness or lightheadedness