Food allergies are a significant health concern for about 15 million Americans. Thus, it’s likely that you or someone you know suffers from a food allergy. If you have food allergies, it’s essential to learn about them. By taking control of your health and advocating for your family’s health, you become a true Health Hero.
What Are Food Allergies?
There are many food-related disorders, including food allergies and intolerances. Food intolerance is usually limited to digestive issues. In contrast, an immune system reaction causes a food allergy that affects organs outside the digestive system. Food intolerances are not generally severe. Someone with food intolerance can even eat a little bit of the offending food and experience little or no trouble. Digestive aids can help avoid an adverse reaction to a food the body doesn’t tolerate well.
Food allergies differ in that the body mistakenly attacks broken-down food proteins as enemies. And if you suffer from a food allergy, even the tiniest food protein can result in a severe allergic reaction. During one of these attacks, your immune system produces an immunoglobulin E (IgE) antibody. These IgE antibodies release the chemicals that signal an allergic reaction. Your doctor may refer to food allergies as “IgE mediated.”
People can experience reactions to a range of food allergens. Pretty much any food can cause an allergic reaction. However, a small number of foods are responsible for most allergic reactions. The most common food allergens are:
- Tree nuts
- Sesame seeds
Food allergies affect the skin and gastrointestinal tract (stomach and bowels). They can reduce your ability to breathe and even impact heart function. Although some reactions are mild, a severe allergic reaction, called anaphylaxis, can be life-threatening. Food allergies often cause a trip to the ER.
How Are Food Allergies Diagnosed?
If you suspect a food allergy, you should seek medical attention as a health hero. Self-diagnosis is usually a bad idea. You may make unnecessary changes to your diet, resulting in poor nutrition. It is especially harmful when it comes to diagnosing your kids.
An allergist will perform a variety of tests to identify your allergies. The skin prick test and a standard blood test look for IgE antibodies when certain foods are eaten. These can result in false positives, but they are helpful when combined with additional tests.
The oral food challenge is accurate in diagnosing food allergies. Still, it can cause a severe reaction, so it should be performed in a qualified medical facility. Another approach to analyzing your food allergies is to follow a trial elimination diet.
How Are Allergic Reactions Treated?
What happens if you are allergic to a particular food? Symptoms may appear within minutes to hours after eating the suspect food. Antihistamines or oral or topical steroids can usually be used to treat mild symptoms. These symptoms include:
- Hives, a rash, or eczema
- Redness of skin (especially around the eyes)
- Itchy mouth
- Nausea or vomiting
- Abdominal pain
- Nasal congestion or runny nose
- Coughing (3)
A person who has anaphylaxis can have severe symptoms on their own or with other mild symptoms. These include:
- Swelling of the lips, tongue, and throat
- Trouble swallowing
- Shortness of breath
- Blue face, fingers, or toes
- Faintness, confusion, or weakness
- Loss of consciousness
- Chest pain
- Weak pulse
Anaphylaxis is a life-threatening allergic reaction that is more likely with allergies to peanuts, tree nuts, fish, and shellfish. An instantaneous onset of symptoms may include abdominal pain, diarrhea, trouble breathing or swallowing, hives, and nausea. Anaphylaxis is an emergency condition, so a person who has a known food allergy will usually keep medicine on hand. Epinephrine is the only drug that can reverse symptoms. A prescription auto-injector like the EpiPen is used to administer it at the first sign of a reaction.
How Does One Live with Food Allergies?
Managing food allergies is extra difficult for children. If your child suffers from food allergies, teach them what you learn about the condition. Make reading labels or asking about ingredients a habit. Always tote your EpiPen and wear emergency medical ID jewelry. Practice making healthy decisions, be safe, and be prepared.
- Food allergies occur when your immune system mistakes particular food as an enemy and initiates an allergic reaction.
- Fifteen million people in America suffer from food allergies.
- A severe allergic reaction is called anaphylaxis and is considered an emergency condition.
- Only the drug epinephrine can reverse the symptoms of an allergic reaction.
- If you suffer from a food allergy, keep your emergency medication on you.