A food allergy causes an immune reaction to the protein in a certain food or food group. Not all of the approximate 12 million Americans affected experience the same reactions, but common reactions may include itching, rashes or welts, swelling of the tongue or throat, or respiratory difficulties. Symptoms typically present within two hours of exposure to the allergen, sometimes within minutes.
Eight food groups comprise 90% of identified food allergies – milk, wheat, eggs, soy, peanuts, tree nuts, shellfish, and fish. Peanuts, tree nuts, shellfish, and fish are the most common of the major allergens, and also tend to be the most life-threatening. These ingredients are the most likely to send a patient into a severe allergic reaction, such as anaphylaxis. These severe reactions, when left untreated, may quickly lead to death. Most food allergies are present from childhood. Many children outgrow many food allergies, but allergies to peanuts, tree nuts, shellfish, and fish tend to be lifelong afflictions.
There is currently no way to cure food allergies. Antihistamines may help treat mild symptoms if an allergen is consumed. A severe allergic reaction is a medical emergency and necessitates immediate medical attention. Patients with known severe food allergies are often prescribed an epinephrine auto-injector, commonly known as an epi-pen. These patients should always carry their epi-pen in case of accidental exposure. Though an epi-pen may save a life, a dose of epinephrine is not a substitute for proper medical attention – it is crucial that a patient having a severe allergic reaction receive emergency medical attention even after using an epi-pen. The most effective way to prevent serious reactions is knowledge. Once your food allergy is identified, take measures to avoid it. Learn the tricky terms that may be on ingredient labels. When dining out, make sure your server is aware of your allergy and communicates your situation to the kitchen. Do not eat anything that you are not confident is free of your allergen. Ensure your family and friends are aware of your food allergies and know what to do in the event of a severe reaction.