Know more about food allergy

What would you do if you were told that you can’t eat your favourite dish anymore because you’re allergic to it? It’s a hard choice.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, food allergies are estimated to affect 4% - 6% of children and 4% of adults.

A food allergy occurs when your immune system mistakes harmless food as something that can harm your body. Even the tiniest morsel of an allergy-causing food can trigger symptoms such as digestive problems, hives, etc. Food allergy symptoms differ from person to person. One can develop a food allergy at any age, but food allergies in children are most common.

What is the difference between food allergy and food intolerance?

Many food intolerances are often mistaken for food allergies. Food intolerance can cause the same signs and symptoms as a food allergy which makes it difficult to differentiate between the two.

Food intolerance never involves the immune system. When you eat spicy food, you get a runny nose and if you’re lactose intolerant, eating dairy products leads to diarrhoea. This is your body’s way of reacting to food that can harm you. This isn’t caused by your immune system, so it’s not an allergy. There are several causes for food intolerance such as irritable bowel syndrome, recurring stress or psychological factors, celiac disease, absence of enzyme needed to digest food and sensitivity to certain food additives.

A food allergy, on the other hand, causes your immune system to react and affects numerous organs in the body. An allergic food reaction can even be severe and life-threatening whereas food intolerances are often limited to digestive problems and are comparatively less severe.

If you have a reaction after eating a particular food, it’s better to visit your doctor to determine whether the underlying cause is a food intolerance or an allergy.

What are the different types of food allergies?

A food allergy trigger can also differ from person to person, depending on how one’s immune system reacts to food. Although almost any food can cause an allergy, several foods make the list of food allergies common to most.

Causes of food allergies in adults –

  • Shellfish (shrimp, lobster, crab)
  • Peanuts
  • Tree nuts (walnuts, pecans)

Causes of food allergies in children –

  • Peanuts
  • Tree nuts
  • Eggs
  • Cow’s milk
  • Wheat
  • Soy

Pollen-food allergy syndrome

Certain fruits, vegetables, nuts and spices cause allergic reactions because the proteins found in them are similar to the proteins found in the allergenic pollen. This situation is called cross-reactivity.

If you have a pollen allergy, the following foods can cause pollen-food allergy syndrome depending on the type of pollen you are allergic to.

Birch pollen

Ragweed pollen

Grass pollen

Mugwort pollen

Raw potatoes
Some herbs and spices (anise, caraway, coriander, fennel, parsley)

Melons (cantaloupe, honeydew and watermelon)

Melons (cantaloupe, honeydew and watermelon)
White potato

Bell pepper
Some herbs and spices (anise, black pepper, caraway seed, coriander, fennel, mustard, parsley)

Milk allergy, egg allergy, wheat allergy and soy allergy may disappear over time, while peanut allergy, tree nut allergy, fish allergy and shellfish allergy tend to be lifelong.

What are the different food allergy symptoms?

Signs of food allergies can range from mild to severe and affects each person differently. However, here are the most common signs and symptoms to look out for –

  • Vomiting and/or stomach cramps
  • Hives
  • Shortness of breath
  • Wheezing
  • Repetitive cough
  • Tight, hoarse throat; trouble swallowing
  • Swelling of the tongue, lips and/or face
  • Weak pulse
  • Pale of bluish coloring of skin
  • Itchy/blotchy skin
  • Dizziness
  • Tingling in the mouth
  • Burning sensation in the lips and mouth
  • Nausea
  • Diarrhoea

Most food related symptoms occur within two hours of consumption of the offending food, often starting within minutes. However, in some very cases, the reaction may be delayed by four to six hours or even longer.

Does food allergy cause any serious diseases?

In some people, food allergy can trigger anaphylaxis, a severe allergic reaction that can cause life-threatening symptoms like –

  • Constriction and tightening of airways
  • A swollen throat or a sensation of a lump in the throat that makes is difficult to breathe
  • Shock coupled with a severe drop in blood pressure
  • Quickening pulse
  • Dizziness, lightheadedness or loss of consciousness

Allergy management and immediate treatment is extremely crucial in this scenario as untreated anaphylaxis can cause coma or even death.

Other severe reactions of a food allergy include atopic dermatitis (eczema) and aggravation of asthmatic symptoms.

What are the best food allergies treatment and management methods?

The best way, and the hardest, to avoid a food allergy is to avoid eating food that causes an allergy. If you are allergic, following these steps will help in food allergy prevention

  • Read food and drinks labels carefully before consuming
  • Wear a medical bracelet or necklace to let others know you have a food allergy in case you have a reaction and are unable to convey it.
  • Take utmost caution while eating out. You can check the restaurant menu online well ahead of your visit to see the food items they offer.
  • Always remember to tell the servers about your allergy and remind your friends, too, so they can also avoid ordering anything that could trigger your allergy.
  • To better manage food allergies in children, parents must always ensure to pack the right food, and must also give a heads up to their teachers about their kids’ allergies to provide maximum care and precaution.
Signs of Food Allergies – AllergyFree

You usually don’t get an allergic reaction to food right away. It can take anywhere from a few hours to 10 days. Typically, it takes from 12 hours to 3 days. Even with treatment, symptoms can last 2 to 4 weeks.

The 10 most common food allergens are eggs, milk, peanuts, soy, wheat, tree nuts, fish, shellfish, raw fruits and vegetables and sesame seeds.

The only way to treating food allergy, unfortunately, is to prevention. Hence, it becomes extremely crucial to ensure you avoid consuming any food that may contain the allergen that triggers an allergic reaction in you.

Certain foods can make your allergies worse like alcohol, peanuts, sugar, processed foods, wheat, chocolate, coffee, dairy products, gluten, melons, bananas, cucumbers and sunflower seeds depending on the type of allergy you already have. It will be best to consult your doctor about the dietary restrictions in your case.

There are several ways of doing a food allergy diagnosis by conducting a food sensitivity test and food allergy testing to check which foods trigger an allergic reaction. Some of the ways are - Dietary review - A detailed review of foods eaten, including timing and symptoms. Skin prick testing - A small amount of food is "pricked" into the skin using a tiny needle. The skin is then monitored for a reaction. Oral food challenges - The problem food is eaten in a controlled environment under medical supervision in gradually increasing amounts. Blood tests - In some circumstances, blood will be drawn and the level of IgE antibodies (that cause allergic reactions) measured.

Red meat, avocados, marshmallows, corn, mango, dried fruits and hot dogs have been listed as some rare food allergies.

Foods like onion, peppers, berries, parsley, kiwi, pineapple, tuna, honey, ginger, bee pollen, citrus fruits, turmeric, tomatoes, salmon and other oily fish are known to ease allergic symptoms.

You can test for peanut allergy at home, in consultation with your doctor, through an elimination diet where you might have to eliminate peanuts from your diet completely for a couple weeks and then add it back to your diet to check if it triggers a reaction. However, if you’ve had severe food reactions before, this might not be the safest method to try.