Food Allergies

What is a food allergy?

A food allergy is an immune system response to a food that the body mistakenly believes is harmful. Once the immune system identifies a particular food as harmful, it creates specific antibodies (specific IgE) to it. The next time the individual eats that food, the IgE attached to a cell (mast cell) stimulates the release of massive amounts of chemicals, including histamine, in order to protect the body. These chemicals trigger a cascade of allergic symptoms that range from mild (rashes, hives, itching, swelling, etc.) to severe (trouble breathing, wheezing, loss of consciousness, etc.).

What is anaphylaxis?

Food allergies are potentially life-threatening when they lead to anaphylaxis; a severe allergic reaction that is rapid in onset and if not treated promptly, can be fatal. Reactions are unpredictable.  Prior reactions are not good indicators of future reactions.  A seemingly mild reaction can turn quickly.  If your doctor has prescribed epinephrine, you should carry it with you at all times.

Anaphylaxis Do’s and Don’ts (FAAN)

How do I know if I have a food allergy?

A food allergy diagnosis is made based on the patient’s history and supported by food allergy testing, which may include blood tests or skin tests.  An allergist is best qualified to make the diagnosis.

What are the most common triggers?

Eight foods account for up to 90% of all food-allergic reactions. They include: Peanuts, Tree nuts (such as almonds, cashews, walnuts, pecans), Milk, Egg, Soy, Wheat, Fish and Shellfish.  While these are the most common foods attributing to food allergies, any food can be allergenic.

Is there a cure for food allergies?

No!  Strict avoidance of the allergy-causing food is the only way to avoid a reaction.   Epinephrine is the first line of treatment for an allergic reaction.  Epinephrine can halt the progression of systemic symptoms and stop the reaction.

What does an allergic reaction look like?

A reaction to a food can cause a variety of symptoms. Each time an individual experiences a reaction, the symptoms can vary, so it is important to be aware of all the possibilities. Symptoms can include:

  • hives, rashes,
  • itching, swelling of skin
  • nausea, vomiting
  • difficulty breathing, wheezing
  • low blood pressure, loss of consciousness


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