Food allergy, like other types of allergies, is becoming more common in the United States. Many people are not familiar with food allergy, and do not know how to take the proper precautions for someone who has a food allergy. Other people are living with needless anxiety because they believe they are allergic to foods that they could actually eat quite safely.
What is food allergy?
Food allergy comes from the immune system attacking proteins in foods that are well-tolerated by most people. We eat many proteins in our food every day that usually our immune system knows to leave alone. In people who have food allergy, the immune response occurs only to a particular food, or a small number of foods.
Symptoms of food allergy typically include hives, difficulty breathing, or swelling of the tissue under the skin. Sometimes nausea or abdominal discomfort can occur. Sometimes food can make eczema worse. Most concerning is if someone collapses or loses consciousness. Sometimes symptoms that occur after eating have nothing to do with food allergy.
If you are worried about food allergy, it is useful to write down what food was eaten, the symptoms that occurred, how soon after eating the symptoms appeared, how long the reaction lasted, and what medicines were taken. We recommend that you bring your notes with you so you can refer to them when meeting with the allergist. Bringing food labels for the doctor to review is often helpful.
There are different tests that can be done including skin tests or blood tests. However, the most important part of the evaluation will come from the medical interview, and discussing previous reaction(s) with an allergist. Allergists have experience knowing when testing should, and should not, be done.
The only treatment currently available is to avoid the food that causes the allergy. After careful evaluation of the allergy, you will receive instructions as to how to avoid that particular food, and what to do if it is accidentally eaten. In the future, those with severe food allergy may have an additional option to add a margin of safety. Talk with your allergist regarding this treatment if you have severe food allergy.
Those with food allergy who also have asthma need to make sure they regularly visit their doctor and take their asthma medicine as directed. Food allergy is more dangerous if a person has asthma that is out of control.