Food allergies are fairly common and cause a range of symptoms from mild to severe. In fact, sometimes the symptoms are so mild and appear so fleetingly that the person suffering does not realize their discomfort is caused by a food allergy. People who suffer from food allergies might assume (at least initially) that an upset and/or gassy stomach is due to eating too much, whereas it could be caused by what is being ingested, not the amount. Or a person outdoors at a picnic might conclude that a suddenly itchy face or scratchy throat is an allergy to pollen, grass, or wildflowers. Due to the mild nature of food allergy symptoms, therefore, these allergies are often undiagnosed because the sufferer doesn’t bother to follow up with their doctor. And yet food allergies affect roughly 12 million Americans, and cause approximately 30,000 visits to the ER and anywhere from 100-200 deaths yearly in the United States.
The most common food allergies, sometimes dubbed “the big 8,” are:
- dairy products.
- tree nuts.
It is estimated that these foods account for over 90% of the food allergies in the US.
The following are symptoms of food allergies:
- itchy eyes, throat, mouth, or skin.
- nasal congestion, Rhinorrhea.
- swelling of soft tissues (ie, angioedema) involving face, lips, eyelids and tongue.
- stomach cramps, diarrhea, abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting.
- anaphylaxis a whole-body reaction that can result in death. If any of these symptoms occur after consuming a particular food, a doctor should be consulted to rule out food allergies.
There are two good reasons to determine whether one has a food allergy. The first reason is that the allergy can be treated, bringing relief to the sufferer. The second reason is that some allergies are potentially life-threatening. People who have severe reactions to a food need to be aware of not only the specific food that causes the reaction, but also any other foodstuffs that might contain that food, or any vestiges of that food. For example, someone allergic to peanuts must (obviously) avoid peanuts. But that might not be enough to prevent exposure and a severe reaction. Any and all items made with peanuts in any shape or form should also be avoided, which means peanut butter, candy bars, and anything cooked or prepared with peanut oil.
Food allergies arise when the immune system mistakenly identifies a particular food or a substance in food as harmful. The body, adopting a defensive mode, reacts by releasing antibodies (known as immunoglobulin E [IGE] antibodies) to fight the perceived harmful invader. The next time that same food is consumed, the IgE antibodies signal the immune system to release histamine and other chemicals into the blood stream. The immune response can occur within seconds or up to an hour after ingestion and can consist of any or all of the symptoms listed previously. And because allergy symptoms generally progress in severity over time, anyone who suspects they have a food allergy should see their doctor.
Currently there is no cure for food allergies but the sufferer can minimize the minor inconveniences and the larger dangers by avoiding the specific food. In addition, anyone who has a food allergy should carry an autoinjector of epinephrine (ie, EpiPen) in case the offending food is ingested accidentally.