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.
Your body’s immune system fights off infections and other dangers to keep you healthy. When your immune system senses that a food or something in a food is a “danger” to your health, you have a food allergy reaction. Your immune system sends out immunoglobulin E or IgE antibodies. These react to the food or substance in the food. Your body releases histamines. 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.
Most food allergies are caused by these foods:
Allergic symptoms may begin within minutes to an hour after eating the food. Symptoms can occur a bit differently in each person. Symptoms may include:
The symptoms of a food allergy may look like other health problems. Always see your healthcare provider for a diagnosis.
Anaphylaxis is a severe allergic reaction. It is life-threatening. Symptoms can include:
Anaphylaxis is a medical emergency. Call 911 to get help right away. Severe allergic reactions are treated with epinephrine. You should carry an emergency kit with self-injecting epinephrine.
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, no medicine is available to prevent food allergy. The goal of treatment is to stay away from the food that causes the symptoms.
If you have a food allergy, you should carry with you and know how to give yourself an epinephrine shot to treat emergency reactions. You must be ready to treat any allergic reaction caused by accidentally eating a food you are sensitive to. You need an emergency kit to stop severe reactions. Talk with your healthcare provider about what to do with the kit.
Medicines are available to treat some symptoms of food allergy after the food has been eaten. These medicines may ease nose and sinus symptoms, digestive symptoms, or asthma symptoms.
Right now, no allergy shot treatment is approved to treat food allergies. But research is ongoing. Strictly staying away from 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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