The Centers for Disease Control define a food allergy as “an adverse health effect arising from a specific immune response that occurs reproducibly on exposure to a given food.” In other words, an allergic reaction is the body’s hyperactive response to food it considers to be a dangerous foreign substance. While doctors and scientists are not sure why the body reacts this way, allergic reactions to specific foods can range from mild discomfort to life-threatening anaphylaxis and can evener vary over the course of a person’s life.
Usually, individuals with allergies come from families in which allergies are common, although not necessarily to food but to things such as pollen, fur, feathers, or certain drugs. This means that a person with two parents who are prone to allergies is all the more likely to develop allergies themselves—including food allergies.
A number of foods, especially shellfish, milk, eggs, peanuts, and fruit can cause allergic reactions. The most common reactions are most notably hives, asthma, abdominal symptoms, lightheadedness, and in very serious cases, anaphylaxis.
Not all adverse responses to food are food allergies. A true food allergy differs from other abnormal responses to food like food intolerances, which are far more common than food allergy. Once a food allergy is identified, treatments can range from avoiding the offending food to progressive graded food challenge treatments. Food allergies are mainly identified through a patient’s medical history and a skin test. A qualified immunologist can work with individuals who have food allergies to help them understand more about allergies and how they are diagnosed and treated.
Early diagnosis is often difficult in children because their symptoms can be subtle or not readily apparent. Furthermore, children may not be as capable of communicating their symptoms clearly because of their age or other possible developmental challenges. Common signs such as abdominal pain, itchiness, or other discomforts may be the first indications of an allergic reaction in child.
Signs and symptoms can become evident within a few minutes or up to 1–2 hours after ingestion of the allergen, and rarely, several hours after ingestion. Symptoms often include:
• Breathing difficulty
• Voice hoarseness
• Feeling lightheaded along with a change in mood or alertness
• Rapid progression of symptoms that involve a combination of the skin, gastrointestinal tract, or cardiovascular symptoms signal a more severe allergic reaction (anaphylaxis) and require immediate attention.