What is a Food Allergy?

A food allergy is when your immune system overacts to a specific protein found in that food. An allergic reaction to a particular food can present itself in many forms such as; hives or red itchy skin, a stuffy or itchy nose, sneezing and watery eyes, vomiting, stomach cramps and diarrhea, angioedema or swelling. In some cases a severe reaction occurs called anaphylaxis. Signs of a severe reaction include: hoarseness, a lump in the throat, throat tightening, wheezing, chest tightness, difficulty breathing, and tingling in the hands, feet, lips and scalp. Sometimes symptoms can occur when coming in contact with a minimal amount of food. It is common for people to mistake symptoms of food intolerance with food allergies. The main difference being that when you are allergic to a food, the allergen triggers a reaction in the immune system, which can be life-threatening.

Being allergic to a food may also mean being allergic to a similar protein found in other elements. This is known as cross-reactivity. Cross-reactivity is when the immune system thinks a protein is closely linked to another. An example is if someone is allergic to ragweed, they may also have a reaction to bananas and melons.

It can be common for food allergies to first be diagnosed in young children. However, they may also appear in older children and adults. It is possible for some children to outgrow a food allergy but it is also possible for adults to develop a food allergy later in life.

Below is a list of eight foods responsible for the majority of allergic reactions:

  1. Cow's Milk
  2. Peanuts
  3. Eggs
  4. Fish
  1. Soy
  2. Shellfish
  3. Tree Nuts
  4. Wheat

(Links to NIH www.nih.gov, FDA www.fda.gov, and Best Allergy Sites www.bestallergysites.com)