What is a food allergy (FA)?

Food allergies have become more common in the past decade. Only a small amount of foods are the cause of 90 percent of allergic food reactions.

Food allergies (FAs) are very common and have shown in recent years to have increased in children. According to the Mayo Clinic, food allergies affect about six to eight percent of children under five years of age and about three to four percent of adults.

A study conducted by Johns Hopkins showed 2.5 percent of Americans have at least one food allergy. A 2012 study published in JAMA Pediatrics magazine showed that families in the United States spend nearly $25 billion annually on food allergy treatments and medications.

Food allergies should not be confused with food intolerance. Food allergies affect the immune system and can be very serious. Food intolerance is not as serious and has no connection to an individual’s immune system.

Although any food has the ability to cause an allergy, only a handful of foods cause nearly 90 percent of all food allergies. Where foods are concerned, most allergens are proteins.  In 2012 Medical News Today said, “People with a food allergy have an immune system which reacts to certain proteins found in food. Their immune system attacks the specific protein as if it were a harmful pathogen, such as a bacterium or virus.”

The substance that causes an allergic reaction in foods or drinks is called an “allergen.” When your immune system has a reaction to an allergen, inflammation and irritation symptoms are the result.

Listed below are foods that are considered the most common allergens. Michigan State University Extension breaks down these allergens, commonly known as “The big eight:”

  1. Fish
  2. Eggs
  3. Milk
  4. Tree nuts (hazelnuts, walnuts, almonds, Brazil nuts)
  5. Ground nuts (peanuts)
  6. Shellfish
  7. Soya
  8. Wheat

A FA is an immune system reaction that occurs in a person after eating or even coming in contact with a certain food. It is possible that an allergic reaction can happen in the most minute way. In some cases, simply being in the same room or building that is the source of the allergen can cause a reaction.

FA symptomatic reactions can range from  small to severe. Common symptoms can include:

  •  Digestive problems (diarrhea, vomiting, pain in the abdomen)
  • Swollen airways (nasal congestion, trouble breathing, wheezing, loosing your voice, trouble swallowing)
  • Itiching (mouth)
  • Hives or eczema
  • *Anaphylaxis (seek medical treatment immediately)

*Anaphylaxis is very serious. It can cause a coma or death if not treated immediately by a medical professional. Symptoms can range from rapid increase in pulse rate, trouble breathing, a feeling of having a lump in your throat, dizziness, drop in blood pressure or fainting.

If you suspect food allergies, get a medical diagnosis. Inform schools, employers, restaurants andfamily members and educate yourself. Take precautions when traveling or participating in outdoor activities. Have regular medical checkups and follow your doctor’s orders.

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