Food allergies are rare forms of allergies, affecting a small percentage of adults and a larger percentage of children. The symptoms can often be dangerous and even life-threatening.
Like all allergies, the reaction during a food allergy attack is caused by your body’s immune system. Usually, your body releases antibodies in order to destroy a threat presented by a bacteria or virus that can make you sick. But in the case of a food allergy, your body’s immune system mistakes a food protein for a harmful intruder and releases a flood of antibodies that ultimately trigger the allergic reaction.
Which Foods Cause Allergies?
Almost any food can cause an allergy, but shellfish, peanuts and tree nuts are among the worst culprits. Milk, eggs, wheat, soy and other types of fish are also sometimes allergy offenders.
Often, a family of foods might cause problems for someone with food allergies. For example, a person who’s allergic to crab may need to exercise caution around shrimp or lobster as well. The same goes with walnuts and pecans, or peanuts and soybeans.
Warning Signs and Treatment
Symptoms of a food allergy reaction can range from mild to severe. Mild symptoms can include hives, itchiness, sneezing, nausea and vomiting or diarrhea. In the case of a severe food allergy, the tongue, lips and throat can swell and prevent breathing. This might be a sign of anaphylactic shock, which is life-threatening and requires emergency medical treatment. Other severe symptoms can include trouble swallowing, shortness of breath, loss of consciousness and chest pain.
If you or a loved one has a food allergy, it’s important to be under the care of a doctor and have an “allergy action plan.” This usually will include avoidance of the food, and you may also need to keep preventive medications on hand, such as Epinephrine (an EpiPen), an inhaler and other allergy medications.
SOURCES: American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology; Food Allergy Research and Education
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