October 17, 2014

What is a food allergy?

Food allergy is an immune reaction between small proteins in foods, interacting with sensitized cells in the gastrointestinal tract. These very specific reactions may result in mouth or throat swelling, nausea and/or vomiting, diarrhea, wheezing, hives, or generalized itching. A more severe response is referred to as anaphylaxis, which can involve asthma-like reactions, airway blockage, and/or drops in blood pressure that can be life-threatening. The foods most likely to trigger food allergy/anaphylaxis include egg, milk, peanut, fish, crustaceans (shell fish) and tree nuts. Food allergic reactions generally come on within an hour of exposure.

What is food intolerance?

These are conditions that have symptoms that may suggest allergy but have a completely different mechanism biologically. Examples would be soy protein intolerance, lactose intolerance and sprue intestinal disease. Food intolerance does not present itself as anaphylaxis. The diagnosis of food intolerance involves understanding the spectrum of food-induced illness and appropriate tests and treatment specific to the condition.

Who gets food allergies?

Food allergy often starts in young children but can affect adults as well. Often, there are other allergic conditions in food-allergic patients such as asthma, nasal allergies or atopic dermatitis. Some food allergies can be outgrown, such as milk and egg, where others tend to persist for decades, e.g. peanut, tree nuts and shell fish.

Is there a treatment for food allergies?

In treating food allergy, objective testing should be done to be clear about the specific cause of symptoms. This leads to avoidance of the offending food, which may require reading labels and being particularly careful about restaurant meals. At some point in the future, there may be treatment available for severe food allergies including the use of a synthetic antibody product that is currently available for asthma.

What do you do for an allergic reaction to a food?

Subjects who have had significant allergic reactions to foods need to carry adrenaline, such as an Pen® or Twinject®, with them for self-administration. Because these reactions come on very suddenly, adrenaline can reverse the most serious symptoms and allow time to get to an emergency room or call 911. If you are prescribed injectable adrenaline, be sure that you have this with you at all times and understand how to use it confidently.

Where can I get more information about food allergies?

The Food Allergy Network is an organization with excellent information on all aspects of food allergy. It can be accessed on the internet at