What is food allergy?
A food allergy is an abnormal
response of the body's immune system to certain foods. This is not the same as food
intolerance. But some of the symptoms may be very similar.
What causes food allergies?
Your body’s immune system fights
off infections and other dangers to keep you healthy. When your immune system senses
that a food or something in a food is a “danger” to your health, you may have a food
allergy reaction. Your immune system sends out IgE (immunoglobulin E) antibodies. These
react to the food or substance in the food. They cause special cells to release
chemicals in the body. This can cause allergy symptoms such as hives, lip and mouth
swelling, asthma, itching in the mouth, trouble breathing, stomach pains, vomiting, or
Which foods most often cause food allergies?
Most food allergies are caused by
Some facts about food allergies:
Eggs, milk, and peanuts are the most common causes of food allergies in children.
Peanuts, tree nuts, fish, and shellfish commonly cause the most severe reactions.
Nearly 1 in 20 children
younger than age 5 have food allergies.
From 1997 to 2007, food
allergies increased by 18% among children under age 18.
Most children "outgrow" their
allergies to egg and milk. But allergies to peanuts, tree nuts, and shellfish may
According to the National
Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, it doesn't take much food to cause a
severe allergic reaction. Even a tiny amount (1/44,000 of a peanut) can cause a
severe reaction in a highly allergic person.
What are the symptoms of food allergies?
Allergic symptoms may begin within
minutes to an hour after eating the food. Symptoms can be different for each person.
Symptoms may include:
Lip and mouth swelling and
Tightness in the throat or hoarse voice
Nausea and vomiting
Diarrhea and cramps
Itchy, raised bumps (hives)
The symptoms of a food allergy may look like other health conditions or problems. Always talk with your healthcare provider for a diagnosis.
What are severe symptoms of food allergy?
Anaphylaxis is a severe allergic
reaction. It is life-threatening. Symptoms can include those above as well as:
Trouble breathing or wheezing
Feeling as if the throat is closing or that the lips and tongue are swelling
Skin gets warm and red
Itchy palms and soles of
Low blood pressure
Loss of consciousness
Anaphylaxis is a medical emergency.
Call 911 to get help right away. Severe allergic reactions are treated with
epinephrine. If you know you have severe allergies, you should carry an emergency kit
with 2 epinephrine autoinjectors.
Treatment for food allergies in adults
The goal of treatment is to stay
away from the food that causes the allergic symptoms. There is no medicine to prevent
food allergies. But research is ongoing.
You need to be prepared in case you
eat something with the food that causes your allergic reaction. If you are at risk of a
severe reaction, talk with your healthcare provider about getting epinephrine
autoinjectors. These should be used if you have a reaction. Carry these with you at all
Treatment for food allergies in
As in adults, it is very important
that your child stays away from foods that cause allergies. If you are breastfeeding
your child, talk with your child's healthcare provider. Find out if you need to stay
away from the foods as well.
You may need to give vitamins to
your child if he or she can't eat certain foods. This can help prevent any nutritional
deficiencies. Discuss this with your child's healthcare provider.
If your child is at risk of a
severe allergic reaction, talk with your child's provider. Ask about getting epinephrine
autoinjectors for use in case of a reaction. Two epinephrine autoinjectors should be
with your child at all times. If your child is in school, meet with the principal and
teachers. Tell them about your child's food allergies. And help them create an emergency
plan in case your child has an allergic response to a food allergen. Make sure that
appropriate school staff have immediate access to 2 epinephrine autoinjectors.
Talk with your child's healthcare
provider about seeing an allergist for allergy testing. Many children's allergies change
over time. As some children grow older they are able to safely bring foods back into
their diet. This should be done with an allergist's supervision.