A Look at Food Allergies
Do You Have a Trigger?
An estimated three to four percent of adults and six to eight percent of kids under age five have a food allergy, according to the Mayo Clinic. While this may seem like a small number, those who are affected constantly must be aware of foods that may trigger allergies.
A food allergy is a reaction of the immune system that occurs after ingesting particular foods or food substances. Click through the slideshow to take a closer look at food allergies.
Food intolerance is often confused with food allergy, but the two are different. A food intolerance can be caused by:
- food poisoning from spoiled food
- an enzyme deficiency
- irritable bowel syndrome
- food-additive sensitivity to preservatives or enhancers
- anxiety or other psychological factors in which the mere thought of a certain food creates illness
- celiac disease, which is a gastrointestinal reaction to gluten
A food allergy causes the body’s immune system to react negatively to ingesting that particular food. The immune system’s job is to fight bacteria and viruses, but in this instance, the body mistakenly perceives the food to be harmful and attacks it like an invader.
Food allergies can occur in a timeframe ranging from mere minutes up to six hours after ingestion, according to the American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology (ACAAI).
The Big 8
Allergic reactions can be caused by almost any food, but there are eight ingredients that most commonly trigger food allergies. These ingredients—known as “The Big 8”—are responsible for 90 percent of allergic reactions, according to the Mayo Clinic:
- fish (for example, bass, flounder, or cod)
- shellfish (such as lobster, shrimp, and crab)
- tree nuts (such as almonds, cashews, and walnuts)
Fish allergies and shellfish allergies may include all types of fish and shellfish, or they may be limited to a particular species. Reactions range from congestion and hives to potentially fatal effects.
Milk allergies include milk protein from cows and other animals, as well as milk byproducts (whey and casein). Symptoms include hives, vomiting, and digestive problems. Severe reactions are rare.
Soy allergies usually begin with a baby’s negative reaction to infant formula containing soy. Symptoms are usually mild and include itching in the mouth and hives.
Products made with wheat flour trigger wheat allergies. Wheat is found in many foods—from breakfast cereal and cake, to soy sauce and some mustards. Reactions to wheat include asthma, an upset stomach, and eczema.
Peanut allergies are one of the most common allergies in children and usually occur within minutes of ingestion. Symptoms include skin reactions like redness or swelling, a tingling sensation around the throat or mouth, and digestive issues like cramps, vomiting, or diarrhea.
Tree nut allergies include reactions to almonds, pecans, and walnuts. Food Allergy Research & Education (FARE) reports that tree nuts can cause a potentially fatal allergic reaction.
Hold the Eggs
Egg allergies can be triggered by anything made with egg, including baked goods and desserts, soups, salad dressings, and pasta. Symptoms can range from mild hives to a severe and potentially fatal reaction called anaphylaxis.
FARE recommends that those with a documented anaphylactic reaction to any allergy always carry an epinephrine auto-injector (such as an EpiPen) that your doctor prescribes in case of a reaction.
Although most allergic reactions are relatively mild, anaphylaxis is a life-threatening response that can occur within a few seconds to a few minutes. Symptoms include:
- abnormal breathing
- reduced blood pressure
- difficulty swallowing
- fainting and dizziness
- nausea and vomiting
- slurred speech
Since anaphylaxis has the potential to be fatal, emergency medical attention should be sought immediately.
Susceptibility to allergies is unpredictable. Foods you’ve eaten for years without incident can suddenly cause problems, according to the ACAAI. While symptoms of food allergies are more common in children, they can arise at any age. There are no food allergy cures, so those with an allergy must exercise discretion throughout their lifetime.