A food allergy is when a person has a reaction after eating a food. Specifically, an allergy antibody binds special cells and causes release of chemicals that cause symptoms of hives, swelling, itching, redness, shortness of breath, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, dizziness, and even death. Most reactions occur within minutes to an hour or two after ingestion of the food. People can also have reactions after touching or inhaling the cooking vapors of certain foods.
The most common foods implicated in food allergy are “the big eight”
- Milk and foods that contain milk, such as ice cream or butter (called dairy foods)
- Tree nuts, such as almonds or cashews
- Shellfish, such as shrimp or oysters
Food allergies usually appear in childhood and some, such as milk and egg allergy, are likely to be outgrown. Others, like peanut and shellfish, persist into adulthood. People can have an allergy to one or more foods.
Symptoms can differ from person to person. Also, a person can have different symptoms each time he or she has an allergic reaction.
Food allergy management:
Your doctor may perform allergy testing via skin testing or bloodwork. In some cases, both types of testing are appropriate. If any of the testing is positive or if the history is consistent with a food allergy it is very important to strictly avoid that specific food. Ingestion may cause severe symptoms or possibly death even if an earlier reaction was mild. Sometimes it can be difficult to know what food is causing symptoms. In these cases keeping a food diary is helpful. Reading labels is very important since one type of food may have many different names after being processed. Some patients wear a medical alert bracelet to let others know to what foods they are allergic if they should lose consciousness.
If a food has been accidentally eaten, the best treatment is a medicine called “epinephrine.” All food-allergic patients should carry epinephrine autoinjectors with them at all times. 911 should be called immediately – at the hospital, doctors can give you epinephrine and other medicines to treat your symptoms. Doctors will also watch to make sure your symptoms don’t get worse. Antihistamines are also used to help with symptoms of itching and hives.
Is there any way to prevent a food allergy?
It’s not clear. If you have a food allergy — or your child does — other family members may have a higher risk of the same allergy. For pregnant or breastfeeding women it is not safe to avoid a food necessary for basic nutrition, such as milk, prior to talking with your doctor. When your baby is old enough to start eating solids, you will have to decide when to offer the food. Doctors used to think it was better to delay this if a baby was at high risk for allergy. Now, they think it might be better not to wait until the baby is older, and to give the food at the normal time. But there is still no way to know for sure if your baby will have an allergy. Your baby’s doctor can help you decide when and how to offer certain foods.