Up to two million or 8% of children and 2% of adults in the U.S. are estimated to be affected by food allergy but the symptoms of food allergies can also be from intolerance or additives in food.
Food allergy is usually from protein known as allergens. Most allergens can still cause reactions even after they are cooked or digested. 90% of all allergic reactions—are caused buy proteins in cow’s milk, eggs, peanuts, wheat, soy, fish, shellfish and tree nuts. Most people may tolerate allergic foods in future that previously caused allergic reactions, with the exception of peanut, tree nut and seafood.
All foods come from either a plant or an animal source, and are grouped into families according to their origin. A person who is allergic to one member of a food family may be allergic to others or all the members of the same group. This is known as cross-reactivity. Some people may be allergic to both peanuts (legume) and walnuts (tree nuts), which are from different food families.
The most common allergic skin reaction to a food is hives and eczema. Gastrointestinal symptoms include vomiting, diarrhea and abdominal cramping, and sometimes a red rash or itchiness around the mouth. Swelling of the lips, tongue, mouth and throat may lead to life threatening reaction called anaphylaxis, needing urgent medical attention.
Non-allergic food reactions or intolerance differs from an allergy in that it is usually caused by non-protein. For instance, an individual may have uncomfortable abdomi¬nal symptoms after consuming milk. This reaction is most likely caused by a milk sugar (lactose) intolerance, in which the individual lacks the enzymes to break down milk sugar for proper digestion. Symptoms may include a rash around the mouth, due to natural acids in foods like tomatoes and oranges, or diarrhea due to excess sugar in fruit juice.
Food reactions may also be triggered by drug-like chemicals in some foods e.g. nervousness after consuming caffeine in coffee or soft drinks, headaches triggered by chemicals in cheese and chocolate. Food additives may cause reactions in sensitive people include aspartame, benzoates, BHA and BHT, FD&C dyes Yellow No. 5 and Red No. 3, monosodium glutamate (MSG), nitrates nitrites, parabens and sulfites. True allergic reactions to food additives are very rare. The best way to handle food additive sensitivity is to learn which foods contain certain additives and avoid the additives that cause problems.
Allergy testing is recommended to find out exactly what food you are allergic. Food diary and oral food challenge is sometimes required to confirm the diagnosis. It is uncommon for someone with negative skin test to have a true food allergy. Skin tests are not helpful for suspected chemical or food additives.
- Avoid the food.
- Ask about ingredients.
- Read food labels.
- Be prepared for emergencies. Anaphylactic reactions caused by food allergies can be poten¬tially life threatening. Those who have experienced anaphylaxis must strictly avoid the food that triggered the reaction. Those with severe food allergies may need to carry and know how to use injectable epinephrine (Epipen/Twinjet. They should also wear a bracelet that describes the allergy and emergency treatment.
If you have food allergies, you may also contact the
Food Allergy Network (FAN) 1-800-929-4040 / or www.foodallergy.org