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Food Allergies

Food Allergy Facts

  • Food allergies affect about 8% of children in the U.S. and 10.8% of adults.
  • 40% of food allergic children report multiple food allergies, often severe food allergies.
  • While any food can potentially cause an allergic reaction, most reactions occur to proteins found in cow’s milk, eggs, fish, shellfish, peanuts, tree nuts, soy, and wheat.
  • Milk is the most common food allergen for children, followed by eggs and peanuts.
  • Shellfish is the most common allergen in adults, followed by peanuts and tree nuts.
  • Food allergies tend to run in families.
  • Common gastrointestinal food allergies are Cow’s milk, soy, and wheat.
  • Gastrointestinal food allergies present in early childhood with a range of symptoms.

Food allergies are an abnormal response to a food triggered by the immune system. The reaction is quick, within a few minutes to a few hours. The immune system releases histamine which causes allergy symptoms like coughing, sneezing and hives. However, the body can react to normal proteins as well.

Gastrointestinal food allergies, or food intolerances, are adverse reactions to certain foods that occur in the gastrointestinal tract. These reactions can be caused by a variety of foods, including dairy products (lactose intolerance), seafood (shellfish allergy) and wheat (celiac disease). Food intolerances can also be caused by food additives, such as monosodium glutamate (MSG) and sulfites.

These disorders do not cause a reaction by the immune system. They may be caused by malabsorption due enzyme deficiencies like lactose intolerance, reactions to toxic contaminants like celiac disease, and reactions to food components that have a drug action like caffeine.

Symptoms of gastrointestinal food allergies range from mild to severe and can include skin reactions such as hives and itching, swelling of the tongue or lips, dizziness, stomach cramps, abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting or diarrhea.

In more serious cases, a food allergy can cause anaphylaxis – a life-threatening reaction that can lead to a constriction of the airways and shock. Untreated, anaphylaxis can be fatal. Importantly, skin contact with certain foods can also cause an allergic reaction.

If a person experiences any symptoms of an allergic reaction, they should seek medical attention as soon as possible. People at risk for a severe reaction must carry injectable epinephrine (also known as an EpiPen) and use it, if necessary, until professional medical help can be reached.

A food allergy is usually diagnosed through a combination of medical history, physical exams, and laboratory tests. Your doctor may recommend a skin prick test or a blood test, called an allergen-specific IgE test, which measures the number of antibodies in the blood to a food allergen.  This can help determine the specific allergen causing your symptoms. In children, an oral food challenge may be conducted under medical supervision to confirm whether or not a food allergy exists.

It’s important to note that food intolerances and sensitivities are not the same as a food allergy and have different symptoms and treatments. If you suspect that you may have a food sensitivity or intolerance, speak to your doctor.

There is no cure for food allergies, so the best way to manage them is to avoid the allergen completely. This involves paying careful attention to labels on packaged foods and asking questions when eating out.

In some cases, desensitization therapy may be recommended by a healthcare professional. This involves administering tiny doses of the allergen over time to help patients build up a tolerance and reduce their risk of having anaphylaxis from accidental exposure.

When you or a loved one is suffering with allergic reactions to foods, contact Gastroenterology Associates of Brooklyn to schedule a consultation to learn more.