The most common food allergies - what you need to know. How to know if you have a food allergy, symptoms, and tips for living with food allergies.
People all over the world develop food allergies at any point throughout their lives. Here are the most common food allergies and how to manage them.
The most common food allergies are:
These nine foods are the most common allergies. You can develop an allergy to any food so if you don’t see what you are reacting to on this list, you may still be allergic.
This article walks you through all aspects of what are food allergies, symptoms, what to avoid, what you can still enjoy, and how best to live with your food allergies.
What is a food allergy?
Food allergies are when the immune system thinks that a food is a threat to you. There are currently 3 types of food allergies recognized, based on what symptoms they cause.
An IgE allergy occurs when the body is exposed to food or anything in the environment (everything from a peanut to cat dander to pollen outside) and develops a strong IgE antibody response. This is the body's own antibodies working to protect the body from something it sees as a threat. The body responds by triggering the immune system that can range from a mild irritation (sniffles) to a life-threatening situation (anaphylactic response).
A non-IgE allergy is an allergy that is not caused by the IgE antibody but by other immune cells. This type of allergy is more difficult to detect because the symptoms take much longer to develop, often several hours later.
Mixed reactions are exactly what it sounds like. It is when people experience symptoms from both types.
Are allergies and intolerances the same?
Allergies and intolerances can seem similar at first, but they are two different responses in the body.
An allergy occurs when the food triggers the body to stimulate the immune system into hyperdrive, causing an allergic reaction. Allergies can develop to any foods at any time and they cause reactions throughout the body. Because they trigger the autoimmune system to activate, they can be life-threatening.
An intolerance is when the body doesn’t digest a food properly. Dairy and gluten are the two most common intolerances, but they can occur to any food. Since the reaction is located to the gut, you can experience a varying degree of gastrointestinal discomfort. For instance, for dairy intolerance, symptoms like nausea, gas, bloating, cramps, and diarrhea can occur. Having an intolerance, while not fun, is not life threatening.
Only a doctor can tell you for certain if you have an allergy or intolerance. Make an appointment with your doctor or allergy specialist if you suspect you have one!
Symptoms of Food Allergies
Most children and adults will have an immediate reaction, a reaction after a few minutes, or even as long as a few hours after coming into contact with their food allergy. Remember, some people are so allergic to foods that touching the food or even just smelling the food can cause a reaction.
A list of possible reactions includes:
- Swelling, itching, or irritation of the mouth, lips, tongue, or throat
- Asthma attacks
- Eczema on the skin
- Hives, itching rash of the skin
- Nasal congestion
- Difficulty breathing
- Cramping and/or pain of the stomach or bowels
- Anaphylactic reactions
For some people, a life threatening reaction known as an anaphylactic (ann-a-phil-act-tick) reaction may occur after eating, touching, or smelling their food allergy. If this happens, please call 911 or your local emergency number immediately. This is a life or death reaction.
Signs and symptoms of an anaphylactic reaction include:
- Swelling or tightening of the throat
- Difficulty breathing
- Chest pain or tightness
- Trouble swallowing
- Dizziness or fainting
- Change of the normal coloring of the skin
- For light skin, check for signs of dark blue tints in teh mucous membranes (inner lips, gums, around the eyes, and the nail beds)
- For medium skin, check for signs of a gray-green tint in the mucous membranes (inner lips, gums, around the eyes, and the nail beds)
- For dark skin, check for signs of a gray or white tint in the mucous membranes (inner lips, gums, around the eyes, and the nail beds)
How is a Food Allergy Diagnosed
The best way to confirm a food allergy is through the removal of the food and monitoring your reaction (and lack of a reaction) over the course of several weeks.
There really is no perfect way to confirm a food allergy.
When meeting with a doctor for the first time, they will take a family history, ask for a detailed history of your symptoms, and do a physical exam.
Want to monitor your foods for allergies? Check out my free printable for tracking your food reactions!
After that, there are three tests that can be done to get a good idea of what foods you are allergic to.
A skin prick test. In this test, a small amount of the food is placed on the skin of your forearm or your back. The doctor will then prick your skin to allow a tiny amount into your skin. If a reaction occurs, it is likely you have a food allergy to this item, but isn’t always a positive.
A blood test. A blood test can measure your immune system’s response to a particular response by checking for levels of IgE. For this, your doctor will draw blood and then send the blood to a medical laboratory where they will be tested. Again, these tests are not 100% accurate.
Elimination diet. This is the gold standard for testing allergies. You eliminate the suspected food(s) for 14 to 21 days to allow your body time to calm down. Then, you introduce one food at a time and see if a reaction occurs.
This can be dangerous if you have had a severe reaction to a food in the past. In this instance, it is advised you only try this under the supervision of the doctor.
The best way to confirm a food allergy is through the removal of the food an monitoring your reaction over the course of several weeks.
Can You Outgrow a Food Allergy?
It is possible to outgrow food allergies, especially if you are young. Milk and eggs are commonly outgrown when diagnosed as children. Peanuts and tree nut allergies seem to be more lifelong. However, each person is unique and may outgrow their allergies at any time.
Additionally, anyone can develop an allergy at any point in their life. A woman who was in her 90s recently developed an allergy to peanuts. So it is always good to be aware of food allergies.
Food Allergy Treatment
The only way to prevent an allergic reaction is to identify the food you are allergic to and avoid it.
There are currently several medications being researched to combat food allergies, for example peanuts and milk are being researched the most. Recently, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved the first oral immunotherapy for a peanut allergy. This is used for children aged 4 to 17 with a peanut allergy. It isn’t a good match for everyone, so speak with your doctor to find out if you are a good candidate.
Make sure that you talk with your doctor or a nutritionist when first removing big allergens like dairy, wheat, or eggs from your diet.
Antihistamines can help relieve the symptoms of a mild or moderate reaction. Over the counter medications like claritin or zytrec help with seasonal and indoor allergens. These should not be taken to reduce a reaction to a food allergy.
For a severe allergic reaction, treat with an injection of epinephrine and go to the emergency room.
People with severe allergies should ask their doctor about getting an EpiPen. These are for acute anaphylactic reactions and can be used to help save the life of the person reaction.
What to do if you have a food allergy
First, it is important to know that you must avoid your food allergy. Even if you do not have a severe reaction to the food now, a severe reaction can happen at any time. You never know. That is why it is vital that you avoid the food in your home, at school or work, when eating at restaurants, and on vacation.
There is no such thing as taking a break from a food allergy or just having a little bit and then taking a benadryl after. You can’t just scrape off what you are allergic to and eat the rest. And you can’t ignore a food allergy.
After developing or discovering your new food allergies, how you eat and how you live is going to change. Cooking from home is one of the safest options for you to avoid cross contamination. Make sure your diet is filled with lots of simple whole foods such as meats, grains, vegetables, fruits, beans, and lentils.
Living with food allergies has gotten so much easier in the past few years thanks to the requirements of labeling all foods in grocery stores. Not to mention the sheer number of allergy free alternatives available in most stores.
When eating at restaurants, the key to avoid getting sick is to research ahead of time. Most restaurants post their menus online, which gives a chance to figure out if the menu is safe. Even if the menu states they are “allergy friendly” you should still research because it is difficult to ensure that a kitchen will wipe off surfaces, open new bags of ingredients, or even use a different set of gloves when preparing food.
When dining at a friend’s house, I will always ask if I can bring an option that is safe for me to enjoy.
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