Diseases and Disorders

Common Food Allergies

Learn about 8 most common food allergies and their symptoms so you can identify them quickly. Discover what foods are most likely to cause an allergic reaction?

Prevent Food Allergies

To prevent food allergies, there are many things you can do. You can never be certain that your child is free of any food allergies until they grow up, so you should teach them the importance of reading labels and checking ingredients.

Being diagnosed with a food allergy can be really frightening. Get the facts about common food allergies and how to manage them, including how to avoid an allergic reaction and the most effective treatments.

Learn about the 8 most common food allergies, as well as lesser-known ones.

The Common Food Allergies

What a person eats is very important. Food provides the body with nutrients and energy and affects every aspect of life, from growth and development to health, mood, and sleep. But for some people, it can also result in a potentially life-threatening allergic reaction.

Allergies to food are one of the most common allergies out there. They happen when your immune system attacks a food protein because it wrongly recognises it as a threat.

What are the 8 Most Common Food Allergies?

Food allergies can range from mild to severe. In very extreme cases, they can cause anaphylaxis, a severe reaction that could be fatal.

In the USA, over 26 million people have food allergies and the number is rising.

Food Allergies vs Food Intolerance

Many people mistake some symptoms of food intolerance with an allergic reaction.

Food intolerance happens when a person experiences abdominal pains or difficulties after digesting a certain type of food.

One of the biggest differences between allergies and food sensitivity is that the latter involves the digestive system. This means that food intolerance can cause discomfort, but it is usually only limited to digestive problems, and the symptoms are far less serious.

Allergies are caused by an abnormal reaction to the immune system and can be very dangerous.

Also, having an intolerance to a certain type of food doesn’t mean that you can’t have it once in a while. But if you are allergic to food, even the tiniest amount could cause a reaction.

Since it is not always easy to tell if you have an allergy or are simply sensitive to some kinds of food, it is best to consult a professional. Just to be on the safe side.

What are the Common Food Allergies Symptoms?

Symptoms of food allergies usually appear between a few minutes and two hours after you have eaten something you are allergic to. Sometimes, a reaction can happen after four or six hours, but this is sporadic.

The most common symptoms include:

  1. Hives
  2. Skin rash
  3. Tingling sensation in the mouth
  4. Swelling of the face, tongue, or lips
  5. Coughing and wheezing
  6. Stomach cramps
  7. Nausea
  8. Dizziness
  9. Swelling of the throat and trouble swallowing.

Types of Food Allergens

Types of food allergies – It is estimated that there are 170 foods that can cause an allergic reaction. Let’s break down the eight most common ones.

8 Common food allergies

Food allergies are the immune system’s response to a specific type of food. The most common food allergies are peanuts, tree nuts, eggs, cow’s milk, soy and wheat. Environmental allergens can also cause an allergic reaction.

1. Shellfish

Shellfish are the most common cause of food allergies.

Shellfish usually includes shrimp, lobster, and crab, as well as oysters, clams, or mussels, although some people with allergies can consume these last three without problems.

Even the tiniest trace of this type of seafood can cause a reaction. The vapours from cooking shellfish are dangerous as they can also cause symptoms to appear.

An allergic reaction to shellfish comes on quickly and should be treated immediately. Shellfish-allergic people can develop hives, respiratory issues, or anaphylaxis. If this is the case, a visit to the ER is a must.

The major problem is diagnosis. Shellfish allergies can sometimes exhibit digestive issues, such as vomiting or nausea, making it hard to distinguish them from reactions to bacteria, viruses, or parasites.

This type of food allergens is most prevalent among adults, although it can affect children as well. Sadly, you can’t outgrow a shellfish allergy, and the best way to deal with the condition is to avoid all contact with shellfish.

2. Milk

Milk is the most common food allergen for children and the second most common cause of allergies in adults. Although it is common for kids to outgrow milk allergies by the age of four, in certain cases, they can continue into adulthood.

The most common trigger for this type of food allergies is cow’s milk, although milk from other mammals can also bring on a reaction.

Milk allergies are very difficult to diagnose as symptoms between them and lactose intolerance overlap. Abdominal cramps, gas, and vomiting are common for both conditions, but hives, swelling, and coughing are not signs of lactose intolerance. In that situation, emergency treatment is required.

Like all other food allergies, the only way to manage it is to cut milk from your diet altogether. This means no more ice cream sundaes or French toast. Luckily, finding a substitute for milk is not that hard.

3. Peanuts

Peanut allergies affect 4.5 million American adults and are one of the food allergens most associated with anaphylaxis. In fact, most deaths connected to food allergies are caused by peanuts and a severe allergic reaction.

Many people mistake peanuts with tree nuts. Although peanuts don’t grow on trees and do not belong to this group of nuts, many people with peanut allergies also have reactions to other nuts.

Anaphylaxis triggered by peanuts is less likely to happen through casual contact unless peanut traces come into contact with your eyes, nose, and mouth.

One misconception about peanut allergies was that once it appears, it lasts a lifetime. New studies show that almost 20% of children outgrow allergies to peanuts as they grow older.

A sure way to avoid a reaction to peanuts is to avoid all products that may contain this allergen. However, a new treatment is being developed that could address some of the more dangerous symptoms arising from peanut allergies.

4. Egg Allergies

Eggs are one of the most common allergens among children. They can develop in infancy. However, 70% of them will outgrow allergies by the time they hit puberty. For some, allergies to eggs are a lifelong condition that can only be treated by cutting off this type of food from the daily diet.

Signs of an egg allergy can be hives, vomiting, or stomach pain. It is rare for an egg allergy to cause a severe reaction.

Children who have eczema are more at risk of experiencing this type of allergic reaction than children without skin issues.

An interesting fact is that a person can be allergic to egg whites or egg yolks, but it is usually the whites that trigger a reaction in the immune system. Cross-contact is possible with people who are only allergic to the proteins in egg whites, so take no chances and stay clear of both yolks and whites.

In the past, children with egg allergies couldn’t get a seasonal flu shot as it contained a small amount of egg protein. Today, however, this vaccine no longer poses a threat to people who are allergic to eggs.

5. Fish Allergies

Allergies to fish and shellfish are not the same, even though many people commonly believe they are. A person can be allergic to finned fish but can eat shellfish with no problems. The three types of fish that most commonly lead to an allergic reaction are tuna, halibut, and salmon.

Symptoms of a fish allergy are like those of shellfish reactions. The major signs are usually abdominal pain and vomiting.

Fish allergies are a serious condition. It is estimated that almost half of people with allergic reactions to fish need urgent medical care.

People who are allergic to fish often develop the condition in adulthood, which is not typical of allergies.

6. Tree Nut Allergies

A tree nut allergic reaction happens when your body reacts to the proteins found in some nuts and seeds that grow on trees. The most common tree nuts to cause problems are Brazil nuts, almonds, and cashews.

People are usually allergic to one or two types of nuts. However, it’s best to cover all the bases and be wary of all tree nuts. This is so because of the likelihood of developing an allergy to other types of nuts increases if you are already allergic to one type.

Risks of developing an allergy to tree nuts also increase if your older sibling suffers from this condition.

Symptoms of this type of allergies usually include difficulty swallowing, nausea, shortness of breath, and abdominal pain. Like peanut allergies, tree nuts can trigger a severe allergic reaction. In fact, almost 50% of deaths caused by anaphylaxis result from a tree nut allergy.

Because of this, people who know they have issues with this kind of food should always carry an epi-pen with them.

Unlike other allergies, this type is typically a lifelong condition. Studies show that only 9% of children outgrow this allergy.

7. Wheat Allergies

There are hundreds of proteins found in wheat, and any of them can cause an allergic reaction. Statistically, a person is more at risk of developing an allergy to wheat if asthma or eczema run in the family.

An allergic reaction to wheat can happen minutes or sometimes even hours after a person has eaten or inhaled wheat. Symptoms usually include stuffy nose, sneezing, and wheezing.

Wheat allergies are more common among children than adults. Over the half of kids who are allergic to wheat outgrow the condition by the time they are 12.

Wheat allergic people may also be sensitive to barley, oats, and rye because they contain some proteins as wheat. So if you are at risk of developing allergies, read cereal labels carefully.

Wheat allergies are very often confused with celiac disease. The two are different conditions, although they sometimes exhibit similar symptoms. Celiac disease is an autoimmune disease in which people cannot eat gluten because of the damage it could cause to their small intestine.

Contrary to what people believe, there is no such thing as a gluten allergy. But if left untreated, celiac disease can be very serious. It’s best to consult an allergist so that there are no doubts about what the symptoms mean.

8. Soy Allergies

Soy allergies are caused when the body reacts to proteins found in soybeans or products that contain soy.

This type of allergies is most prevalent among infants and children under the age of three. A small percentage of babies who are allergic to cow’s milk are also allergic to soy.

Symptoms can include itchy mouth and runny nose, a skin rash, and asthma. In sporadic cases, soybeans can cause anaphylaxis.

Soy allergies may not be that common, but there are a lot of products that contain soybeans. Be on the lookout for potential sources of soy like low-fat peanut butter, some soaps, moisturises, and even pet food.

Food Allergies Blood Test

If you think you have a food allergy, it is best to see your doctor or an allergist straight away. There are many factors that your doctor will go over to determine whether you have allergies or some form of food intolerance.

Typically, your doctor will ask you about your symptoms and your family history. Then they will run tests:

  • Skin test. When a small amount of the allergen is placed under the skin, the body produces a reaction as a raised bump.
  • Blood tests, during which they measure the response of your immune system to the allergy-related antibody.
  • An oral food challenge in which you eat small amounts of the food suspected of causing an allergic reaction.
What to Do in Case of an Allergic Reaction?

The best way to deal with a food allergy is to exclude the food you are allergic to from your diet. Carefully read the labels of all the products you use and take extra care when eating out.

A minor allergic reaction is most commonly treated with antihistamines that offer relief from some symptoms, like hives or itching. However, if a person exhibits symptoms of a severe allergic reaction, such as shortness of breath, increased heart rate, or lightheadedness, they should get treatment immediately. This includes an emergency shot of epinephrine or a visit to the ER.

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Author: Nikola Djordjevic, Medical Advisor, DisturbMeNot. Author’s Free infographic on Allergy Statistics: Click Here.

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