A food allergy is when the immune system of the body reacts to a certain part of food as if it were harmful. This can cause symptoms such as itching, hives, swelling, difficulty breathing, and, in severe cases, anaphylaxis. Some common food allergens include peanuts, tree nuts, fish, shellfish, milk, eggs, and wheat. The diagnosis of a food allergy is typically made through a combination of medical history, physical examination, and allergy testing. Most of the time, people with food allergies avoid allergenic food and have a plan in place in case they accidentally eat it.
Common food allergens
The most common food allergens are:
- tree nuts (such as almonds, walnuts, and pecans)
It’s important to note that these can vary depending on the region and population being studied.
Reasons for food allergy
The reason for a food allergy is that the body’s immune system mistakenly identifies a specific component of food as harmful and reacts to it. The immune system produces antibodies called Immunoglobulin E (IgE) to fight against the allergen. These antibodies then trigger the release of chemicals, such as histamine, which cause the symptoms of an allergic reaction.
There are several theories as to why some people develop food allergies while others do not. One theory is that it may be related to a combination of genetic and environmental factors. Some research suggests that early exposure to certain foods, particularly in infancy, may increase the risk of developing a food allergy. Other studies suggest that changes in diet and lifestyle may also play a role.
It’s important to note that food allergies can develop at any stage of life and can change over time. It’s also important to consult a specialist to diagnose a food allergy.
Symptoms of a food allergy can vary depending on the individual and the allergen, but they can include:
- Hives, itching, or rash: These can appear on the skin and can be accompanied by redness and swelling.
- Swelling: This can occur in the face, including the lips, tongue, and throat.
- Digestive problems: These can include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and stomach cramps.
- Respiratory problems: These can include difficulty breathing, wheezing, or nasal congestion.
- Anaphylaxis: This is a severe and potentially life-threatening allergic reaction. Symptoms can include a rapid heartbeat, drop in blood pressure, difficulty breathing, and loss of consciousness.
It’s important to remember that symptoms can be different for different people, and not everyone will have all of the ones listed above. Also, symptoms can vary from one reaction to the next, and it’s not unusual for some people to have mild symptoms during one reaction and severe symptoms during another.
If you think you or someone you know has a food allergy, you should see a doctor right away.
What should do?
If someone has a food allergy, it is important to take the following steps to manage and prevent reactions:
- Avoid allergenic food: The most important step in managing a food allergy is to avoid the food that causes the reaction. This may mean reading ingredient labels carefully, avoiding certain types of restaurants, or cooking at home.
- Have an emergency plan: In case of accidental exposure, it is important to have an emergency plan in place. This may include carrying an epinephrine auto-injector (such as an EpiPen) and knowing how to use it, as well as having a plan for what to do in case of a severe reaction.
- Wear medical alert jewelry: Wearing medical alert jewelry, such as a bracelet or necklace, can help alert others to the allergy in case of an emergency.
- Learn to recognize symptoms: It is important to be able to recognize the symptoms of a food allergy reaction, which can include itching, hives, swelling, difficulty breathing, and in severe cases, anaphylaxis.
- Seek professional help: If you suspect you have a food allergy, it is important to seek the help of a medical professional. An allergist or immunologist can help diagnose the allergy and provide guidance on how to manage it.
It’s also important to note that if someone is having an allergic reaction, call emergency services or seek medical attention immediately.
Is there any medicine for food allergies?
There is currently no cure for food allergies, and the main treatment is to avoid allergenic food. However, there are a few medications you can use to manage symptoms and prevent reactions.
- Antihistamines: These medications can be used to relieve mild symptoms such as itching, hives, and swelling. They work by blocking the action of histamine, a chemical released by the body during an allergic reaction.
- Corticosteroids: These medications can use to reduce inflammation and swelling. They are usually prescribed for severe allergic reactions or if antihistamines are not effective.
- Epinephrine: To treat severe allergic reactions, such as anaphylaxis this can use. It is usually given as an injection (such as an EpiPen) and works by constricting blood vessels, which helps to reduce swelling and improve breathing.
- Omalizumab: This is a type of injectable medication that blocks the action of IgE and is used for severe allergic reactions to peanuts, tree nuts and milk
- Some experimental therapies are being developed such as oral immunotherapy, sublingual immunotherapy, and epicutaneous immunotherapy, but they are still undergoing clinical trials and are not yet widely available.
It’s important to note that these medications should only be used under the guidance of a medical professional and that the best way to prevent an allergic reaction is to avoid the allergenic food.
- World Allergy Organization, www.worldallergy.org/education-and-programs/world-allergy-week/food-allergy.
- American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology, www.acaai.org/allergies/types/food-allergy.
- Mayo Clinic, www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/food-allergy/symptoms-causes/syc-20355095.
- American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology, www.aaaai.org/conditions-and-treatments/conditions-dictionary/food-allergy.
- National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, www.niaid.nih.gov/diseases-conditions/food-allergy.