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A food allergy is when your immune system has a bad reaction to a certain food. This is different from a food intolerance, which does not affect the immune system. This is true even though some of the same signs may be present.
Before having a food allergy reaction, a sensitive person must have eaten the food at least once before. It is the second time the person eats the food that the allergic symptoms happen. At that time, when Immunoglobulin E or IgE antibodies react with the food, histamines are released. This can cause hives, asthma, itching in the mouth, trouble breathing, stomach pains, vomiting, or diarrhea. It does not take much of the food to cause a severe reaction in highly allergic people.
Almost all food allergies are caused by 8 foods:
Eggs, milk, and peanuts are the most common causes of food allergies in children. Peanuts, tree nuts, fish, and shellfish usually cause the most severe reactions. Although many children “outgrow” their allergies, allergy to peanuts, tree nuts, fish, and shellfish may be life long.
Allergic symptoms may begin within minutes to an hour after eating the food. Symptoms may include:
If you think you have a food allergy, see your healthcare provider for a diagnosis. He or she will take your medical history and do a physical exam. The healthcare provider will do skin or blood tests or both to find out the exact diagnosis. These tests may include:
At this time, there is no medicine available to prevent food allergy. The goal of treatment is to avoid the food that causes the symptoms.
If you have a food allergy, you should carry and know how to give yourself an epinephrine shot to treat emergency reactions. People with food allergy must be prepared to treat any accidental ingestion of the foods that cause the allergic reaction.
There are medicines available to treat some symptoms of food allergy after the food has been eaten. These medicines may relieve rhinitis symptoms, gastrointestinal symptoms, or asthma symptoms.
Right now, there is no allergy shot treatment approved for the treatment of food allergies. However, research is ongoing. Strictly avoiding the allergy-causing food is the only way to prevent a reaction.
If you have one or more food allergies, dining out can be a challenge. However, it is possible to have a healthy and satisfying dining-out experience. It just means that you may have to plan ahead when you eat out.
Another tip for dining out is to carry a food allergy card. You can give it your server or the manager before you order food. A food allergy card contains information about the specific items you are allergic to. It also has additional information such as a reminder to make sure all utensils and equipment used to prepare your meal are thoroughly cleaned before use. You can easily print these cards yourself using a computer and printer.
Tips to help you get the most from a visit to your healthcare provider:
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