Food allergy occurs when the immune system mistakenly attacks a food protein, confusing it to be a hostile invader. Ingestion of the offending food may trigger the sudden release of chemicals, including histamine, resulting in symptoms of an allergic reaction. The symptoms may be mild (rashes, hives, itching, swelling, etc.) or severe (trouble breathing, wheezing, loss of consciousness, etc.). A food allergy can be potentially fatal. It is estimated that approximately 12 million Americans suffer from food allergies. Food allergies are more common among young children – one in 17 under the age of 3 has food allergies.
Eight foods account for 90% of all food-allergic reactions. They are milk, egg, peanut, tree nuts, fish, shellfish, wheat, and soy. But a food allergy can occur with any type of food.
A skin prick test or a blood test is commonly used to begin to determine if an allergy exists. A skin prick test is usually less expensive and can be done in the doctor’s office. Positive skin prick tests or immunoassay test results will show that IgE is present in the body, but cannot alone predict that a reaction will occur if the patient were to eat a suspected allergy-causing food. The results of the tests are combined with other information, such as a history of symptoms and the result of a food challenge to determine whether a food allergy exists.
Strict avoidance of the allergy-causing food is the only way to avoid a reaction. Reading ingredient labels for all foods is the key to avoiding a reaction. If a product doesn’t have a label, individuals with a food allergy should not eat that food. There is no cure for food allergies. Epinephrine, also called adrenaline, is the medication of choice for controlling a severe reaction. It is available by prescription as a self-injectable device such as Epipen.
Symptoms may include one or more of the following: a tingling sensation in the mouth, swelling of the tongue and the throat, difficulty...