Food allergies affect around 4 million Americans with symptoms that can include breathing difficulties, the appearance of urticaria, asthma, vomiting and even death. Food allergies are often confused with the inability to tolerate certain foods. Food intolerance usually causes a completely different set of symptoms including a feeling of bloating, gas or other similar type of discomfort.
Food allergies or intolerances
An easy way to distinguish food allergies from food intolerances is to understand that an allergic reaction actually originates in a person’s immune system. A severe allergic reaction can cause suffocation when the throat or tongue swells so much that a person cannot breathe. Given that around 150 people in the United States die from food allergies each year, this condition is not a laughing matter.
Individuals with known food allergies usually inherit this condition from another family member. When studying patients with food allergy, it is common to see that conditions such as eczema, hay fever and asthma affect other family members.
Foods that cause allergies
Some different types of food seem to trigger the most allergic reactions. And it seems that adults and children each have a different set of foods that cause problems. Most cases of food allergy in children involve peanuts, milk, eggs, soybeans and wheat. In adults, the foods most involved with allergies include shellfish (such as shrimp, crab and lobster), peanuts, walnuts, eggs, other fish and nuts that grow on trees.
Food allergies are so severe in some people that even sniffing food can trigger an allergic reaction. However, food allergies mostly become a problem after a person has eaten a food they are allergic to. Symptoms can begin right at the point of entry with the lips starting to tingle or a tongue starting to itch. Gastrointestinal problems follow cramps, the need to vomit or the development of diarrhea. As the annoying food breaks down and enters the bloodstream, it travels to the lungs and conditions such as asthma, eczema, shortness of breath or low blood pressure may develop at that time.
Manage food allergies
To protect themselves, people with known food allergies should simply avoid contacting these foods. It seems easy enough, however the reality is that it is not always possible to avoid the foods that cause problems. Processed foods can contain so many ingredients that sometimes the culprit is buried deep in the fine print. Legislation to improve food labeling for food allergies has recently been enacted and it is hoped that these new labeling requirements will better protect those with food allergies.
Keeping children away from food allergens is difficult unless a parent is vigilant about what enters the child’s mouth. Parents of children with food allergies should inform everyone from school officials to neighbors about the child’s food allergies and accidents also occur in this case. Fortunately for children with food allergies, most will overcome this condition.