Health One Family Medicine

Is Your Food Making You Sick? Learn about Food Allergies!

Did you know that an estimate of 15 million Americans have food allergies, out of which 5.9 million are children below the age of 18? 

As its name suggests, food allergy is your body’s allergic reaction to certain consumed food – and it could be something you have been eating for years with absolutely no problem at all!

What happens is that your immune system overreacts to a food considering it as harmful and triggers a protective reaction resulting in symptoms, such as hives, digestive issues, or swollen airways. In some cases, a food allergy can cause more severe symptoms or even a life-threatening reaction.

Although food allergies are more common in babies and children, they can appear at any age.

Moreover, people often confuse a food allergy with food intolerance. The distinguishing factor between the two is the involvement of the immune system. Food intolerance is a common and much less serious reaction that does not involve the immune system – it can still be bothersome and discomforting though. Know the difference!

Common allergy-causing foods

While any food can trigger an allergic reaction, there are eight types of food, which are the culprits behind 90% of all food allergies. These are:

  • Milk
  • Eggs
  • Peanuts
  • Fish
  • Shellfish
  • Wheat
  • Tree nuts
  • Soy

In addition to these, certain types of seeds particularly mustard and sesame seeds are also common allergy-causing foods.

Signs and symptoms of a food allergy

The symptoms of a food allergy may range from mild to severe. For many people, reaction to an allergic food may be uncomfortable but not severe while for others, it can be quite frightening and even dangerous for their life.

Symptoms may target the skin, cardiovascular system, gastrointestinal tract, or respiratory tract. They may even involve more than one area.

Here are some signs of a food allergy:

  • Tingling sensation or itching in the mouth
  • Shortness of breath
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Abdominal pain and stomach cramps
  • A repetitive cough
  • Hives
  • Weak pulse
  • Swollen tongue, making it difficult to talk or breathe
  • Dizziness or faintness
  • Skin turning pale or blue
  • Tight, hoarse throat, causing trouble swallowing food
  • A shock or circulatory collapse
  • Wheezing and nasal congestion
  • Anaphylaxis

Anaphylaxis is a severe allergic reaction to a food characterized by life-threatening symptoms, such as:

  • Constricted or tightened airways
  • Rapid pulse
  • A swollen throat or sensation of a lump in the throat that makes breathing difficult
  • Shock accompanied by a sharp drop in the blood pressure level
  • Dizziness, light-headedness or a loss of consciousness

This condition warrants emergency medical attention and treatment. If left untreated, it can cause a coma or even death.

How to prevent a food allergy

The best preventive measure is to be aware of and avoid foods that are likely to trigger an allergic reaction. Make sure you read food labels so that you know exactly what you are eating or drinking. Also, you need to be careful at restaurants because some foods mix with other ingredients and you won’t know they are hiding in the meal you ordered.

Furthermore, if you are at risk of a severe food allergy, you should consider keeping an epinephrine auto-injector with you at all times. You might also want to take some allergen-free foods to events and travel locations. 

Also, if you are already under the influence of a severe allergic reaction and cannot communicate properly, make sure you wear a medical alert bracelet or necklace to let others know.