With a food allergy, a particular protein in a food triggers the immune system to overreact. Common allergies include nuts, milk, eggs, soy, wheat, fish and shellfish

Allergies: When food does more harm than good

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For those who live with a serious food allergy, eating away from home at a restaurant or party can be unnerving and worrisome.

While a “peanut table” is common in schools these days for students who have peanut allergies, staying away from foods that could result in a reaction severe enough to take a life requires a concerted effort.

The most common food allergies are caused by tree nuts, peanuts, milk, eggs, soy, wheat, fish and shellfish. Sometimes children can outgrow a food allergy. On the other hand, adults can develop an allergy to a food they had eaten without any trouble in the past.

From Hives To Breathing Fears

With a food allergy, a particular protein found in a food triggers the immune system to overreact.  Food allergy symptoms include:

  • Hives
  • Swelling
  • Itchy skin and itchy/tingling in mouth
  • Drop in blood pressure
  • Metallic taste
  • Coughing, wheezing
  • Throat tightness
  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting

The most common chronic illnesses associated with a food allergy are eczema and asthma.

Life-Threatening Allergic Reactions

The first exposure to an allergen may produce a mild reaction. Repeated exposures may lead to more serious reactions. Once a person has an allergic reaction, exposure to even a small amount of the allergen later can trigger a severe reaction.

The most severe allergic reaction is anaphylaxis, a life-threatening condition. Symptoms of anaphylaxis typically start within five to 30 minutes of coming into contact with the allergen. Warning signs include wheezing, breathing difficulties, chest tightening and passing out.

Keeping an epinephrine pen on hand and using it quickly is critical for those who have serious allergies. Epinephrine slows down blood circulation, breathing and metabolism. Emergency treatment at a hospital may also be required.

Allergy or Intolerance?

For some people, a reaction to a certain type of food is actually intolerance, rather than an allergy. Food intolerance doesn’t involve the immune system like an allergy does. For example, lactose intolerance can lead to bloating, cramping and gas but not an allergic reaction. A milk allergy can cause hives, vomiting and breathing problems after consuming a dairy product.

An elimination diet, food journal, and skin and blood tests can be used to diagnose specific food allergies. Once that’s determined, avoid the food and learn how to read labels to check ingredients on prepared foods.