The Importance of Understanding and Identifying Food Allergies

Food allergies affect a small percentage of the population, including approximately two to three percent of all adults and six to eight percent of kids. Many who believe they are suffering from a food allergy may instead have intolerance to a particular type of food. A good example of this would be someone who has a lactose intolerance that makes it difficult to eat milk or dairy products without experiencing an upset stomach afterward. Intolerance to a particular food group is not considered an allergy because the immune system is not involved in the process. A true allergy consists of the immune system malfunctioning by reacting to a particular allergen as though it were a harmful substance to the body - in this case, a type of food would be the culprit.

What Foods Cause Food Allergies?

While nearly any food can cause an allergic reaction, the majority of food allergies are caused by a handful of culprits. These foods include wheat, soy, milk, eggs, nuts and fish. Most people will only have a reaction to one or two of these types of foods, although some will have allergies to a related food as well. For example, a person who is allergic to peanuts might also have a reaction to soybeans or peas. People who suffer from eczema or asthma are also more likely to have allergies as well, and this could encompass food allergies as well as reactions to other substances.

What are the Symptoms and Treatment Options?

Symptoms of food allergies can include itching and hives, swelling of the lips and mouth, cramps, nausea and diarrhea. Some people will also have reactions like watery eyes or a runny nose. More severe symptoms will entail dizziness, difficulty breathing and a rapid heartbeat. If you or someone you know experience any of these allergy symptoms, it is important to seek medical care immediately. Also, if you have a less severe reaction that does not go away fairly quickly you should seek medical care as well. If you suspect that you have a food allergy, your doctor can help you to pinpoint the cause of the reaction through blood tests or by referring you to an allergist. Many food allergies are diagnosed simply by the symptoms reported, and by the food that was eaten prior to the appearance of the symptoms.

Most food allergies can be avoided simply by staying away from the food that causes the reaction. If a reaction does occur, mild symptoms can generally be treated at home through the use of over-the-counter antihistamines. More severe symptoms will always require emergency medical care since acute allergic reactions can be life threatening.