Food allergy is a serious medical condition which affects a large number of people. As many as 15 million people in the US suffer from food allergies, which also include 1 in every 13 children.

What Is Food Allergy?

The immune system is entrusted with the task of protecting the body which entails identification and the subsequent destruction of germs including viruses and bacteria. Food allergy is the condition when the immune system of the body mistakenly identifies harmless food protein as a threat and then attacks it as a means to protect the body.

Food Allergy Mechanism

The immune system, once it identifies certain food as threat, produces IgE antibodies, which in turn trigger allergy cells known as mast cells for releasing chemicals into the bloodstream. The chemicals which are released into the bloodstream also include histamine which is responsible for symptoms of allergic reaction of the gastrointestinal tract, skin, throats, lungs, nose and eyes. Once antibodies have been produced against a particular type of food, these antibodies subsequently recognize this food. Therefore, the later consumption of this food results in the triggering of histamine and the allergy symptoms.

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Common Sources of Food Allergy

Though individuals may be allergic to different foods, the most common allergens include:

  • Peanuts
  • Eggs
  • Milk
  • Tree nuts
  • Wheat
  • Soy
  • Shellfish
  • Fish

Food Allergy and Age

Many kids are known to outgrow food allergy with age but this is not always the case. This also depends on the food which the individual is allergic to as some food allergies are easy to be outgrown than others.

In many cases, kids who are allergic to foods like soy, wheat, eggs and milk outgrow these allergies when they reach the age of 5. However, only a small percentage of kids who have peanut allergy or tree nuts allergy are known to overcome it. Only 10% of kids with tree nut allergy and 20% of kids with peanut allergy get over them which points out to the fact these allergies are difficult to get over with age. Similarly, shellfish and fish allergies are known to develop later in life which makes it unlikely that individuals will outgrow these.

Severe and Mild Food Allergy

Food allergy can be both mild and severe. The severe food allergy is characterized by triggering of allergy even if the individual breathes or touches the food he/she is allergic to. Severe food allergy may also be characterized by affecting two or more parts of the body and could also be life threatening and is known as anaphylaxis. This may also result in symptoms like a drop in blood pressure, breathing difficulty, swelling of the airways and loss of consciousness.

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While certain allergic reactions may affect only one part of the body, some have a more extensive effect. However, the body parts which are commonly affected by food allergy include the skin, gastrointestinal system, respiratory system and cardiovascular system. Food allergy affects every individual differently therefore two individuals with the same food allergy may have different reactions to consumption of the food they are allergic to. Similarly, an individual may also experience different reactions after the consumption of food which may depend on the level of food exposure to the body.

Managing Food Allergy

Managing food allergy will require changing your lifestyle and diet which may seem overwhelming for all those who are involved but gets easier with the passage of time. Since no medicine is yet available which can prevent food allergy, prevention seems to be the only available cure. Medications which can help control symptoms once the allergy occurs are administered and individuals who are allergic to food are advised to carry their prescription medication with them at all times.

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Food allergy is therefore a painful condition which is triggered once an individual consumes food he/she is allergic to. However, in cases of severe allergic reaction, even exposure may trigger the allergic reaction. Since no medication is available yet which can help prevent food allergies, people are advised to manage their food allergies by limiting consumption and minimizing exposure to these foods.