A food allergy occurs when your immune system overreacts to a specific protein found in that food. It may only be a small amount of the offending food that sets off a reaction.
Most food allergies are diagnosed at a young age, however for some, allergies may appear in older children and adults. Many children outgrow a food allergy, however, in some cases, adults may develop an allergy.
Allergic reactions occur most commonly in the following foods:
- Cow’s milk
- Tree nuts
It is important to understand the difference between a food allergy and food intolerance. Food intolerance involves the digestive system and your body’s ability to breakdown foods. A food allergy affects your immune system.
You may not be allergic to a food, but intolerant to it. Symptoms are similar, with important differences. With a food allergy, the offending food triggers an immune response which can be life threatening. It’s important to avoid foods containing those food triggers.
To compound matters, sometimes if you are allergic to a food, related proteins may also trigger a reaction. It is called cross-reactivity.
Allergic reactions to food normally occur within minutes of eating the trigger food, though they can sometimes appear a few hours later. Symptoms of a food allergy include:
- Hives or red, itchy skin
- Stuffy or itchy nose, sneezing or itchy, teary eyes
- Vomiting, stomach cramps or diarrhea
- Angioedema or swelling
In some cases, food allergies can cause a severe reaction called anaphylaxis. Signs of this reaction include:
- Hoarseness, throat tightness or a lump in the throat
- Wheezing, chest tightness or trouble breathing
- Tingling in the hands, feet, lips, or scalp
- Light headedness or even loss of consciousness from falling blood pressure
If you experience any of these symptoms, call 911 immediately.
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