Food Allergy Facts

Have you experienced a negative reaction from something you ate? If so, you may wonder if you have a food allergy. A food allergy can be a serious condition that causes a host of symptoms that will make you feel miserable. But the good news is that food allergies are not nearly as common as most people think.

How a Food Allergy Works

The National Institutes of Health cites that as few as 4 percent of adults and less than 8 percent of children have food allergies today. This is a relatively small portion of the population, but if you fall into this group, this fact won't make you feel any better.

A true food allergy causes your immune system to react to something you ate by creating a protein or antibody against it. This antibody, called IgE., will then circulate through your blood stream until it attaches itself to cells in certain parts of your body, including your nose, throat, skin, lungs, and stomach, to produce histamines that cause your symptoms to flare up.

The Symptoms

A food allergy can cause a variety of symptoms, including:

  • An itchy roof of your mouth
  • Upset stomach or stomach pain
  • A drop in your blood pressure
  • Hives
  • Swelling of your throat
  • Difficulty breathing

Common Culprits

Some of the more common foods that can cause adults to experience an allergic reaction include.

  • Shellfish, such as lobster and crab
  • Nuts (including peanuts and tree nuts)
  • Fish
  • Eggs

There are also several foods that are more likely to affect children. These include:

  • Eggs
  • Milk
  • Nuts (peanuts and tree nuts)

In general, there can be a chance that children will outgrow a food allergy, but in an adult, medical experts caution that a food allergy once you get a food allergy, it is not apt to go away. Further, if you find you are allergic to one specific food, such as peanuts, you may find that you need to steer clear of other types of nuts and related foods as well that are in the same family.

Diagnosing Your Symptoms

If you suffer from symptoms that make you think you could have a food allergy, it is of the utmost importance that you see your doctor and let him or her diagnose your condition properly. There are several common steps that many health care providers typically take to make such a diagnosis.

  • First, your physician will review your symptoms to rule out any type of food intolerance or food-related illness.

  • You may also be asked to keep a food diary that tracks what you eat and how you feel to see if any meaningful patterns arise.

  • Expect your doctor to suggest eliminating those foods that you think may be triggering your reaction to see if the symptoms disappear. If so, and then the symptoms come back when you reintroduce the food, this can confirm the allergy. (However, if you have a serious reaction to the food, you won't want to risk trying it again and will need to skip this step.)

  • Talk to your doctor about the range of the tests that are available, such as skin tests expose you to an extract of the food in question to see if you have a reaction, or blood tests that measure the food-specific IgE in your blood. These can be helpful tools to help you to make a diagnosis.

Treatment Options

If you have confirmed that you do indeed have a food allergy, the most common and effective way to treat it is to avoid the item all together. This will mean that you will have to get into the habit of reading food labels to be sure you steer clear of the culprit. Making a mistake can be dangerous, since if your allergy is severe, you run the risk of experiencing serious health consequences from being exposed to even the smallest amount of the item. You should also wear a medical alert bracelet to protect yourself. Finally, you will want to carry a device that contains epinephrine that you can use to treat yourself in case you should suffer a reaction.

While food allergies can be scary, if you take the time to protect yourself, you can minimize your risk and also be prepared to take action if you do inadvertently come into contact with the offending food in order to minimize the consequences.