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Food Allergies

What is a food allergy?

A food allergy is an abnormal response of the body to a certain food. It is important to know that this is different from a food intolerance, which does not affect the immune system, although some of the same signs may be present.

What causes food allergy?

Before having a food allergy reaction, a sensitive person must be exposed to the food at least once before. It is the second time the person eats the food that the allergic symptoms happen. At that time, when IgE antibodies react with the food, histamines are released, which can cause hives, asthma, itching in the mouth, trouble breathing, stomach pains, vomiting, or diarrhea.

What is the difference between a food allergy and a food intolerance?

Food allergy causes an immune system response, causing symptoms that range from uncomfortable to life-threatening. Food intolerance does not affect the immune system, although some symptoms may be the same as in food allergy.

What foods most often cause food allergy?

  • milk
  • eggs
  • wheat
  • soy 
  • tree nuts
  • fish
  • shellfish
  • peanuts

What are the symptoms of food allergy?

  • vomiting
  • diarrhea
  • cramps
  • hives
  • swelling
  • eczema
  • itching or swelling of the lips, tongue or mouth
  • itching or tightness in the throat
  • difficulty breathing
  • wheezing 
  • lowered blood pressure

Treatment for a food allergy in adults

  • your age, overall health, and medical history
  • extent of the disease
  • your tolerance for specific medications, procedures or therapies 
  • expectations for the course of the disease
  • your opinion or preference

At this time, no medication is available to prevent food allergy. The goal of treatment is to avoid the food that causes the symptoms. Although research is ongoing, currently, there is no allergy injection approved for the treatment of food allergies. Strictly avoiding the allergy-causing food is the only way to prevent a reaction.

Treatment of food allergies in children 

After being examined by a doctor and determining foods to which your child is allergic, it is very important to avoid these foods and other similar foods in that food group. If you are breastfeeding your child, it is important to avoid foods in your diet to which your child is allergic. Small amounts of the food allergen may go to your child through the breast milk and cause a reaction.

It is also important to give vitamins and minerals to your child if he or she is unable to eat certain foods. Discuss this further with your child's doctor.

For children who have a food allergy, your child's doctor may prescribe an emergency kit that contains epinephrine, which helps stop the symptoms of severe reactions. Discuss this further with your child's doctor.

Some children, under the direction of your doctor, may be given certain foods again after three to six months to determine if the child has outgrown the allergy. Many allergies may be short-term in children and the food may be tolerated after the age of 3 or 4.

Milk and soy allergy

Allergies to milk and soy are usually seen in infants and young children. Often, these symptoms are unlike the symptoms of other allergies, but, rather, may include the following:

  • colic (fussy baby)
  • blood in your child's stool
  • poor growth

Often, your child's physician will change your baby's formula to a soy formula or breast milk if it is thought he/she is allergic to milk. If your child has problems with soy formula, your child's physician might change him/her to an easily digested hypoallergenic formula.

The symptoms of a milk or soy allergy may resemble other problems or medical conditions. Always consult your child's physician for a diagnosis.

Dining out with food allergies

If your child has one or more food allergies, dining out can be a challenge. However, it is possible to have a healthy and satisfying dining-out experience - it just takes some preparation and persistence on your part.

The American Dietetics Association offers these tips for dealing with food allergies when your family is eating away from home:

  • Know what ingredients are in the foods at the restaurant where you plan to eat. When possible, obtain a menu from the restaurant ahead of time and review the menu items.
  • Let your server know from the beginning about your child's food allergy. He or she should know how each dish is prepared and what ingredients are used. Ask about preparation and ingredients before you order. If your server does not know this information or seems unsure of it, ask to speak to the manager or the chef.
  • Avoid buffet-style or family-style service, as there may be cross-contamination of foods from using the same utensils for different dishes.
  • Avoid fried foods, as the same oil may be used to fry several different foods.

What is anaphylaxis?

  • medications, such as penicillin
  • foods
  • dyes used for medical procedures
  • allergy injections 
  • insects stinks
  • latex

What are the symptoms of anaphylaxis?

  • tightness of swelling of the throat 
  • wheezing or difficulty breathing
  • uneasy sensation or agitation
  • generalized hives
  • severe itching of the skin
  • nausea and vomiting
  • stomach pains
  • heart failure
  • irregular heartbeats
  • lowered blood pressure

Treatment for anaphylaxis

Anaphylaxis is a medical emergency. Immediate medical attention is necessary. Your doctor will probably treat the symptoms with an injection of epinephrine, which will help stop the severe effects caused by the allergen.