What Is a Food Allergy?
Food allergies happen when your immune system makes a mistake. Normally, your immune system protects you from germs and disease by producing antibodies that help you fight off bacteria, viruses, and other tiny organisms that can make you sick. But if you have a food allergy, your immune system mistakenly treats something in a certain food as if it’s really dangerous to you.
The same sort of thing happens with any allergy, whether it’s medicine, pollen in the air or a food. It isn’t harmful itself but the way your body reacts to it is.
Lots of children have food allergies — about 3 million in the United States alone. The following foods cause the most food allergies:
- Peanuts and Tree Nuts
What is an allergic reaction?
If you eat something that you are allergic to, antibodies to something in the food would cause mast cells (a type of immune system cell in the body) to release chemicals into the bloodstream. One of these chemicals is histamine.
The histamine then causes symptoms that can affect a person’s eyes, nose, throat, respiratory system, skin, and digestive system. A person with a food allergy could have a mild reaction — or it could be more severe. An allergic reaction could happen right away or a few hours after the person eats.
Signs of an allergic reaction:
- Tingling in the lips or tongue
- Runny nose
- Tightness in the throat
- Hoarse voice
- Stomach pain
In the most serious cases a food allergy can cause anaphylaxis. This is a sudden, severe allergic reaction in which several problems occur all at once and can involve the skin, breathing, digestion, the heart, and blood vessels. A person’s blood pressure can drop, breathing tubes can narrow, and the tongue can swell.
People at risk for this kind of a reaction have to be very careful and need a plan for handling emergencies.
Many kids outgrow allergies to milk and eggs as they grow older. But severe allergies to foods like peanuts, certain kinds of fish, and shrimp often last a lifetime.
How Are Food Allergies Treated?
There is no cure for food allergies. Some can be outgrown; others will last a life-time. The best treatment is to simply avoid the food itself and any foods or drinks that contain the food. Be sure to read all ingredient labels and avoid the foods that cause the allergic reaction. For more sensitive reactions also avoid the foods that are processed or made in the same factory that also makes the food he you are allergic to.
Have a Plan
No matter how hard you try, you may eat the wrong thing by accident. Stay calm and follow your emergency plan. What’s an emergency plan? Before a slip-up happens, it’s a good idea to create a plan with your doctor. The plan should spell out what to do, who to tell, and which medicines to take if you have a reaction. This is especially important if you have a food allergy that can cause a serious reaction.
Living With Food Allergies
Having a food allergy is a drag, but it doesn’t need to slow a kid down. Help your kids to steer clear of foods that cause reactions. Today there are many companies that provide great substitutes for everything imaginable, you’d be surprised what you can find! Gluten free, soy free, nut free…