Certain Foods Making You Sick? You May Have Food Allergies!

Man with Food AllergiesFood allergies may be merely annoying, or they may be life-threatening. About 30,000 Americans rush to emergency rooms every year to receive treatment for serious allergic reactions to foods.  For about 150-200 people, these reactions are fatal. People with food allergies must be careful about what they eat. They also worry about “hidden” allergens that might sneak into their food.


What exactly is a food allergy? It’s a specific type of adverse food reaction that involves the immune system.  The body produces an allergic antibody to a food. Then, the next time that food is eaten, the antibody binds with the food and causes an allergic response. 


Signs and symptoms may develop within minutes or within an hour after eating the offending food.  Here are some of the most common:


• itching, skin rash, hives

• swelling of the lips, face, tongue, throat or other body part

• nasal congestion, wheezing, or difficulty breathing

• abdominal pain  with diarrhea, nausea, and/or vomiting

• lightheadedness or dizziness


These symptoms can become dangerous if any of these responses occur:


• swelling of the throat or air passages that makes it difficult to breathe

• anaphylactic shock (involving a severe drop in blood pressure)

• rapid, irregular pulse

• loss of consciousness


How can people with common allergies protect themselves? It helps a lot to read packaging labels carefully.  The FDA requires food manufacturers to list the presence of the most common food allergens on their labels.  These are the 8 foods included in the labeling requirements: milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts (such as almonds, cashew, and walnuts), fish (such as bass, cod, and flounder), shellfish (such as crab, lobster, and shrimp), soy, and wheat.  If the product contains one of these foods or a protein from one, it must be listed. 


Any domestic or imported food  regulated by the FDA must supply information such as “contains eggs” on the label. This requirement also includes any of these allergens found in flavorings, colorings, or other additives in that product. If a food may  accidentally come in contact with one of these allergens during the growing, harvesting, or manufacturing process (for example, if peanuts are processed in the same plant), the manufacturer is not required to mention this on the label, but many do list the possibility of trace amounts of a common allergen.   Errors of omission do occur, but, when government inspectors notice that a product contains an unlisted allergen, there is a recall of the product. 


The government’s labeling requirements do not protect everyone with a food allergy.  The 8 most common offenders listed above account for 90% of all food allergies.  However, more than 160 different foods are known to cause allergic reactions. 


Here are some interesting and useful facts to know about food allergies:


• Food allergies reflect patterns of consumption.  In Japan, rice is a common allergen.  In Europe, mustard and celery are.

• Food allergy occurs in 6 – 8% of children 4 years old or younger.  In adults, the figure is 3.7%

• Allergies to peanuts and tree nuts are the leading causes of fatal and near-fatal reactions.

• Accidental exposure to allergens occur in about 50% of people with food allergies.

• The most common food allergies in adults are to seafood, peanuts, and tree nuts.

• The most common foods allergies in children are to eggs, milk, and peanuts.

• Adults usually keep their food allergies for their entire lives, but children sometimes outgrow theirs.

• The highly allergic person can become sick from eating even a very tiny amount of a food allergen, for  example, a small piece of a peanut kernel.

• Some allergic food reactions occur only after exercise.

• A positive test for IgE antibodies to a particular food does not necessarily mean that the person will  experience an allergic symptom after eating that food.  In fact, there’s less than a 50% chance that the person actually has that food allergy.


Food allergies are different from food intolerance.  Some food ingredients that can make a person sick because of intolerance are histamine, lactose, food additives (such as MSG and sulfites), and  gluten.


A health care provider should be consulted for help in diagnosing and treating food allergies. The websites of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases have a wealth of information on these topics on diagnosis and treatment of food allergies, but, ultimately, the allergic person’s best source of information is his/her own doctor, who can take a medical history, do an exam, do allergy tests, and consider the patient’s other medical problems before treating the allergy.  


If you are a person with a history of dangerous allergic reactions, two possibly life-saving recommendations are the following:  1) wear a medical alert bracelet or necklace that states the food allergy you have and possible severe reaction(s) to it; and 2) consult your doctor about the advisability of carrying an auto-injector device containing epinephrine (adrenaline) that you could administer to yourself if necessary.  (You will need a doctor’s prescription for this.)  


FoodSafety.gov also recommends signing up for allergy alerts by email.  These can let you know about food recalls because of unlisted allergens on product labels.  You can also subscribe to an allergy alert newsfeed. 




FoodSafety.gov  “Allergens”


FDA (U.S. Food and Drug Administration)  “Food Allergies: Reducing the Risks”


MayoClinic.com  “Food Allergies: Watch food labels for these top 8 allergens”


National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases  “Food Allergy: What is Food Allergy?”


National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases “Food Allergy: Food Allergy or Food Intolerance?” 


National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases “Food Allergy: Diagnosis”


National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases “Food Allergy: Treatment”


The New York Times  “Doubt Is Cast on Many Reports of Food Allergies” 





FDA (U.S. Food and Drug Administration)  “Food Allergies: Reducing the Risks”


MayoClinic.com  “Food Allergies: Watch food labels for these top 8 allergens”

Allergic reaction Examining can take two types - skin analyze and blood vessels analyze. Normally, tests done under the assistance of a professional in allergy, who are experienced in the best techniques for determining allergic reactions as well as the appropriate techniques for the treatment them.


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