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This topic has general information about food allergies. If you would like more specific information about peanut allergy, see the topic Peanut Allergy.
What is a food allergy?
When you have a food allergy, your body thinks certain foods are trying to harm you. Your body fights back by setting off an . In most cases, the symptoms are mild-a rash, a stuffy nose, or an upset stomach. A mild reaction is no fun, but it is not dangerous. A serious reaction can be deadly. But quick treatment can stop a dangerous reaction.
Allergies tend to run in families. You are more likely to have a food allergy if other people in your family have allergies like hay fever, asthma, or eczema ().
Food allergies are more common in children than adults. About 7 out of 100 kids have them. Only about 3 to 4 out of 100 adults do.1 Children often outgrow their food allergies. But if you have a food allergy as an adult, you will most likely have it for life.
What are the symptoms?
Food allergies can cause many different symptoms. They can range from mild to serious. If you eat a food you are allergic to:
- Your mouth may tingle, and your lips mayswell.
- You may have cramps, an upset stomach, ordiarrhea.
- You may have itchy skin with red, raised bumps called .
- You may have a stuffy nose,wheeze, or be short of breath.
- You may feel dizzy or lightheaded.
Kids usually have the same symptoms as adults. But sometimes a small child just cries a lot, vomits, has diarrhea, or does not grow as expected. If your child has these symptoms, see your doctor.
Some people have symptoms after eating even a tiny bit of a problem food. As a rule, the sooner the reaction begins, the worse it will be.
The most severe reaction is called (say "ANN-uh-fuh-LAK-suss"). It affects your whole body. Anaphylaxis usually starts within an hour after you eat the food. And the symptoms can come back 1 to 2 hours later. If you have anaphylaxis:
- Your throat and tongue may swell quickly.
- You may suddenly start wheezing or have troublebreathing.
- You may feel sick to your stomach or vomit.
- You may feel faint or pass out.
Anaphylaxis can be deadly. If you have (or see someone having) any of these symptoms, call right away.
What foods most often cause a food allergy?
A few foods cause most allergies. A food that causes an allergy is called a food . Usually it is the protein in a food that causes the problem.
- Eggs, milk, wheat, soy, and peanuts causemost problems in children. Most kids outgrow allergies to eggs, milk, wheat,and soy by the time they are 5. But while 1 out of 5 of kids outgrow an allergyto peanuts, they rarely outgrow an allergy to tree nuts (like walnuts oralmonds) or seafood.2
- Peanuts, tree nuts,fish, and shellfish cause most problems in adults. Most adults who have foodallergies have had them since childhood.2
If you are allergic to one food, you may also be allergic to other foods like it. So if you are allergic to shrimp, you may also be allergic to lobster or crab.2
How is a food allergy diagnosed?
Your doctor will ask questions about your medical history and any family food allergies. And he or she will do a physical exam. Your doctor will also ask what symptoms you have. He or she may want you to write down everything you eat and any reactions you have.
If your doctor thinks you could have a serious food allergy, you may have a skin test. The doctor will put a little bit of liquid on your skin and then prick your skin. The liquid has some of the possible food allergen in it. If your skin swells up like a mosquito bite, your doctor knows you are allergic to that food. Your doctor may also do blood tests to look for the chemicals in your blood that cause an allergic reaction.
How is a food allergy treated?
The best treatment is to never eat the foods you are allergic to. Learn to read food labels and spot other names for problem foods. For example, milk may be listed as "caseinate," wheat as "gluten," and peanuts as "hydrolyzed vegetable protein." When you eat out or at other people's houses, ask about the foods you are served.
If you do eat a food you are allergic to, medicines can help. You may be able to stop a mild reaction by taking over-the-counter . You may need prescription medicines if over-the-counter drugs do not help or if they cause side effects, such as making you feel sleepy.
If you have severe food allergies, your doctor will prescribe an allergy kit that contains (say "eh-puh-NEH-fren") and antihistamines. An epinephrine shot can slow down or stop an allergic reaction. Your doctor can teach you how to give yourself the shot.
You can have symptoms again even after you give yourself a shot. So go to the emergency room every time you have a severe reaction. You will need to be watched for several hours after the reaction.
If you have had a serious reaction in the past, your chance of having another one is high. Be prepared.
- Keep an allergy kit with you at all times.
- Wear a to let others know about your food allergy.
- Check the expiration dates on the medicines in your kit, andreplace the medicines as needed.
Your child has a food allergy. What else should you think about?
Talk to your child's teachers and caregivers. They should know how to keep problem foods away from your child. Teach them what to do if your child eats one of these foods by mistake.
If your child has ever had a severe reaction, keep an allergy kit nearby at all times. Some kids carry their kit in a fanny pack. Have your child wear a medical alert bracelet. Teach all caregivers to act quickly. They should:
- Know the signs of a severereaction.
- Know how to give an epinephrine shot.
- Call right away.
How is a food allergy different from a food intolerance?
Many people think they have a food allergy, but in fact they have a . Food intolerance is common. It can cause some of the same symptoms as a mild food allergy, like an upset stomach. But a food intolerance does not cause an allergic reaction. A food intolerance can make you feel bad, but it is not dangerous. A serious food allergy can be dangerous.
If you are not sure which you have, it is a good idea to see your doctor.
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