Food allergies are a common problem affecting about three percent of adults and about seven percent of children. Food allergies occur when a person's immune system hyper-reacts to a specific food by producing specific IgE antibodies. The most common foods to which people react include milk, eggs, wheat, soy, peanuts, tree nuts, fish and shellfish. In most cases, the food must be consumed in order to elicit a reaction. However, in rare cases with some highly sensitized people, simply touching a food or being in an area where the food is being prepared can cause problems.
Food Allergy Symptoms
Common signs or symptoms of food allergies include:
- swelling of the throat or tongue
- difficulty breathing
- loss of consciousness
Symptoms may differ greatly from person to person and may be different in the same person after multiple ingestions of or exposures to the same allergenic food.
Diagnosing Food Allergies
People can be allergic to more than one type of food. Sometimes it is difficult to distinguish whether someone truly suffers from a food allergy or is simply intolerant to a particular food.
Food allergies are diagnosed with a combination of a complete history and physical exam along with different testing and challenge modalities. Often, prick tests are performed in the office and then blood tests are ordered to investigate those results further. Based on the results of these two tests, an in-office food challenge can be performed under the supervision of a Board Certified Allergist.
Managing Food Allergies
The best way to manage food allergies is to avoid the foods which trigger symptoms. In case of accidental ingestion, cross-contamination or any other kind of exposure, food allergic patients should always carry an epinephrine auto-injector (Epi-Pen). Be aware of the contents of every bite of food or drink that is consumed. Read labels very carefully and alert restaurant personnel of any food sensitivities. It is possible to outgrow certain food allergies, but it is also possible to have the same food allergy for a lifetime. Consultation with a Board Certified Allergist is the best way to diagnose and treat food allergies and develop a Food Allergy Action Plan.