Food Allergies—Part I


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Food Allergies—Part I

October 15, 2014


What are the symptoms of food allergies?

Food allergies can cause a variety of symptoms. In the most severe instances, a person will experience a life threatening condition called anaphylaxis. Other less dramatic but equally important symptoms include angioedema (swelling of lips, tongue and throat), hives, eczema and even respiratory or gastrointestinal symptoms.


How common are food allergies?

Food allergies are more common in children. In those under the age of six, the prevalence of food allergy is about 8%. In adults, the prevalence is about 1-2%.


Are there other types of food allergy?

The type of reaction that is classified as a true food allergy is one caused by the IgE antibody. Some people have other types of reactions that are not caused by IgE. These are categorized as "food intolerance". 


How can you tell the difference between a food allergy and a food intolerance?

Of course, the first step in making an accurate diagnosis is having your allergist take a careful and detailed history and perform a thorough physical exam. Additionally, you may need to undergo allergy testing to clarify the diagnosis further.


What types of testing can be done to find food allergy?

Currently, the best test for screening for food allergy is skin testing. Another procedure is a food challenge. It involves having the patient eat a small, measured quantity of the suspected food and close monitoring and observation by your allergist. Some allergy blood tests can be helpful in certain special circumstances.


Once I know what I am allergic to, what can I do?

The best way to proceed is to completely avoid eating the allergenic food. This requires diligence in asking questions and reading labels.


Does it matter how much of the offending food I eat?

For true food allergies, allergic reactions will be triggered by even small amounts of food.


If I accidentally eat something I'm allergic to, what should I do? 

Your doctor should discuss a crisis management plan for treating inadvertent exposures. This may include the use of antihistamines, corticosteroids or injectable epinephrine. Of course, if you are having serious allergic reaction, you should go to your nearest Emergency Room without delay.


Where can I get more information?

One of the best sources of information is The Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network. Learn about them at


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