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Food Allergies

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Common Food Allergy Triggers

There are some common foods that trigger the majority of food allergies. Common food allergy triggers include:

  • Cow’s milk
  • Eggs
  • Peanut
  • Tree nuts
  • Shellfish
  • Soy
  • Sesame
  • Wheat

Cow Milk

This allergy is seen most commonly in younger children. The vast majority of children with this food allergy outgrow it by the time they reach adulthood. Children with this food allergy will develop symptoms as soon as 5 minutes after consuming milk, in some cases.

Symptoms include:

  • Stomach swelling
  • Vomiting
  • Hives

In very rare cases, a patient might develop anaphylaxis as a result of exposure to milk.

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Eggs

An allergy to eggs is the second most common food allergy in children, but given that less than 70 percent of those with an egg allergy will outgrow it, it is often seen in adults, as well.

Symptoms of an egg allergy include:

  • Stomachache
  • Hives or rash
  • Respiratory problems
  • Anaphylaxis (rare)

It is important to note that those with an egg allergy may be allergic to the egg white, the egg yolk, or both. An allergy to egg whites is the most common type of egg allergy.

Peanuts

Often confused with nuts, the peanut is actually a legume and a common food allergy trigger. Fifteen to 22 percent of children with a peanut allergy outgrow it by adulthood. Until and unless it has been confirmed that a patient has developed out of a peanut allergy, that patient should avoid any and all consumption of peanut foods or products.

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Tree Nuts

An allergy to tree nuts affects around 1 percent of people. When one has a tree nut allergy, it is recommended that you avoid all tree nuts and seeds, as having one tree nut allergy correlates highly with developing another.

Patients with a tree nut allergy also need to avoid foods made from nuts, such as nut butters, or foods cross-contaminated with nuts. This can make avoiding the allergen quite difficult for some patients. As a result, most patients with a tree nut allergy carry an epipen so that they can self-administer epinephrine if needed.

Shellfish

Shellfish allergies are most commonly caused by the presence of a protein known as tropomyosin in shellfish. Unlike some other food allergies, shellfish allergies do not often go away over time.

Avoiding shellfish, therefore, is necessary throughout life for patients with this allergy. Since the symptoms of shellfish allergy can resemble symptoms related to contaminated seafood, some patients might not be aware that they have a shellfish allergy.

Working in consultation with an allergist is the best way to identify and address a shellfish allergy.

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Wheat

Those with a wheat allergy will have an allergic response to certain proteins in wheat, resulting in a range of symptoms, including:

  • Stomachache
  • Hives or rash
  • Vomiting
  • Anaphylaxis (rare)

People often confuse celiac disease or a gluten sensitivity with a wheat allergy. A true wheat allergy is a serious condition, resulting in anaphylaxis, and can be fatal.

Rare Food Allergy Triggers

While the above are the most common food allergy triggers out there, there are some foods that trigger allergies in more rare cases. Uncommon food allergies can be triggered by red meat, avocado, hot dogs, mango, corn, and even dried fruit.

Anyone who believes a food may be triggering an allergic response should consult with an allergist.

Food Allergy vs. Food Intolerance

Some who think they have a food allergy may instead have what is known as a food intolerance.

While these two conditions share many symptoms, it is important to understand that a food allergy triggers an immune response and can, therefore, be fatal in some cases. A food intolerance causes digestive issues and discomfort, typically, and are less serious. This is the main and most important difference between food allergy and food intolerance.

When one has a food intolerance, you may be able to consume small amounts of the food and only experience symptoms when you consume large amounts.

Food intolerance can be caused by several different triggers, including:

  • Sensitivity to additives
  • Lacking a necessary digestive enzyme
  • IBS
  • Celiac disease

Some patients may have an aversion to certain foods due to stress or psychological factors, as well.

A food allergy requires the help and intervention of an allergist. Those with a food allergy often must carry epipens with them so that they can self-administer the drug when needed. Someone with a food intolerance will never need this type of intervention and can manage symptoms much more easily.

Food Allergy Symptoms

Food allergy symptoms can vary widely from one case to the next. Common symptoms of food allergies include:

  • Hives or itchy skin
  • Stuffy or itchy nose, sneezing
  • Red, itchy and watering eyes
  • Stomach pain and cramping
  • Vomiting and diarrhea
  • Swelling
  • Anaphylaxis

In some cases, food allergies can result in symptoms that are much more severe, even fatal. Patients who develop any of the following symptoms should seek medical help immediately:

  • Tightening in the throat, hoarseness
  • Tightening in the chest or trouble breathing
  • Wheezing
  • Tingling in the hands, feet, lips or scalp

These can be signs of anaphylaxis and require immediate medical treatment.

How Food Allergies are Diagnosed

Diagnosing a food allergy involves a complete physical examination. Your allergist will also want to take a medical history. Finally, there may be several tests involved.

Types of Food Allergy Tests:

  • Blood Tests: A food allergy blood test involves exposing a patient’s blood to protein triggers in a lab and reviewing the blood’s reaction.
  • Skin Tests: A food allergy skin test involves exposing the skin to the allergen and waiting for a reaction.
  • Food Challenge Tests: In some cases, your allergist may expose you to a food in a food challenge test. This should only be done by a doctor in a monitored setting.

Risk Factors of Food Allergies

Risk factors can vary from patient to patient and allergy to allergy. Generally, those with a history of food allergies in the family are at a higher risk of developing a food allergy. Existing food allergies may also put one at a higher risk of developing a second food allergy.

Finally, patients with an environmental allergy such as an allergy to ragweed are at a higher risk of developing a food allergy if that food contains a protein similar to the one in the environmental trigger.

Management & Treatment of Food Allergies

There is no known cure for food allergies. There are, however, steps patients can take to manage their condition. The primary one is avoiding any and all exposure to the food allergy trigger. Patients should always review ingredients in foods and ask questions about the preparation and storage of foods in restaurants. Another option involves seeking treatments that can help build immunity to food allergen protein to lower the risk of reaction, such as oral immunotherapy.

Any patient who has a severe food allergy should create and maintain an anaphylaxis action plan in partnership with their doctor. This includes carrying and knowing how to use an epipen.

Those with milder reactions can use antihistamines to relieve some symptoms associated with some food allergies. Any food allergy intervention should be pursued in consultation with a medical professional.

FAQs about Food Allergies

What Is the Most Common Food Allergy?

Of the common food allergy triggers, milk is the most common cause of food allergies. It is also the food allergy children are most likely to grow out of and is, therefore, not as common in the adult population.

What Does a Food Allergy Rash Look Like?

A food allergy rash is typically red or pink and features raised red bumps. It is also very itchy and may have red flare marks around the bumps.

How To Get Tested for Food Allergies

If you suspect you have a food allergy, consult with your physician. They may conduct tests themselves or refer you to an allergist.

Can Food Allergies Cause Fever?

Generally, no. If you have a fever, there may be another cause for your illness.

Can You Develop Food Allergies Later in Life?

Food allergies can develop at any time in life. They are most common in children, however, and can disappear as children grow.