Having an allergic reaction is a potentially dangerous situation that will most likely happen to many of us. For reasons not totally understood, food allergies are on the rise. That’s why it is important to understand the very basics of the issue in order to protect the health of yourself and your family.
What is a Food Allergy?
A food allergy is a reaction of the body’s immune system to something in a food or an ingredient in a food—usually a protein. It can cause a range of symptoms from itching to anaphylaxis. There is no proven cure for food allergies, though children tend to outgrow them. Adults do not. The most common way to treat a food allergy is avoidance.
Most symptoms from food allergies are somewhat minor, such as itching around the mouth, nose, eyes, and throat. But there are more serious reactions in the form of hives, swelling, wheezing, congestion, stomach pain, vomiting, diarrhea, eczema, and even anaphylaxis (which can cause death). Extreme reactions are very rare, but should always be treated immediately.
What are the Most Common Food Allergies?
The eight most common food allergens—milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, soy, wheat, fish, and crustacean shellfish—cause most food allergic reactions. However, many other foods have been identified as allergens for some people, such as certain fruits or vegetables and seeds. Most children with food allergies to milk, eggs, soy, and wheat will outgrow their allergy. However, allergy to peanuts, tree nuts, and fish usually continues through adulthood.
Shellfish, which is the most common food allergy among adults often develops during later childhood or adulthood. Peanuts and tree nuts account for most of the severe cases of food allergies.
Food Allergies in Children
Far more kids suffer from food allergies than adults. The good news is that most kids will grow out of them.
If you suspect that you have a food allergy, it’s recommended that you see your doctor. Medical tests can identify allergies. They may not identify food intolerance, but since that has fewer severe symptoms, you can rule out most of the danger.
What about Food additives?
Allergic reactions are somewhat common to sulfites, food coloring, MSG, and other food additives. While far less common than reactions to natural foods, they are also harder to identify. Carefully reading food labels can help you avoid these foods.