Food nourishes the body. It provides you with the nutrients you need to function properly. Unfortunately, the body can react to healthy foods as though they were harmful. If this happens to you, you may have a food allergy.

It’s estimated that roughly 32 million Americans have a food allergy. Unfortunately, many people don’t even know they have them. In this blog, Dr. Ulrike Ziegner at Riviera Allergy Medical Center discusses what causes food allergies and how you may be able to spot them.

What are food allergies?

Proteins in certain foods can trigger an abnormal immune response, which is called an allergic reaction. If the immune system identifies a protein as harmful, it will attack the protein, which can trigger a host of symptoms, some of which can be life-threatening.

Symptoms can differ greatly from person to person. Two people can be allergic to wheat and have completely different symptoms. Symptoms can also vary widely in severity.

Which foods cause allergic reactions?

More than 170 foods are known to cause allergic reactions, but out of these, eight foods are responsible for 90% of allergies. These are known as the “Big 8.” They are:

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

Common food allergy symptoms

When you eat a food that causes an allergic reaction, you may experience these common symptoms:

  • Stomach pain
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Bloating
  • Hives
  • Rash
  • Itchy mouth

Severe food allergy symptoms include:

  • Swelling of the face, lips, and mouth
  • Fainting
  • Dizziness
  • Chest pain
  • Shortness of breath
  • Trouble swallowing
  • Rapid heart rate

Spotting signs of a food allergy

Obvious digestive symptoms, such as having stomach pain after eating a certain food, can make putting the dots together easier. Less obvious symptoms, however, can make spotting a food allergy more challenging. Food allergy symptoms you might miss include:

  • Coughing
  • Nasal congestion
  • Headache
  • Sneezing
  • Runny nose
  • Fatigue

While many people think allergies are something that people get starting in childhood, this isn’t always true. A food allergy can develop at any time. In fact, adult-onset food allergies are not only common, they’re on the rise. When food allergies strike for the first time in adulthood, they usually do so in the 30s and 40s. Another peak for adult-onset food allergies is people in their 50s and 60s. Approximately 15% of people with food allergies develop them in adulthood.

Common adult-onset food allergies

Of the “Big 8,” adults diagnosed with new food allergies are most commonly allergic to:

  • Shellfish
  • Tree nuts
  • Fish
  • Soy
  • Peanuts
  • Sesame
  • Yeast

We see fewer adults diagnosed with wheat, milk, or egg allergies for the first time, but it is possible.

Diagnosing food allergies

If you notice you or your child has symptoms of a food allergy, Dr. Ziegner can perform a simple skin prick test. A skin prick test involves pricking the skin and letting tiny amounts of various foods absorb into the tiny puncture wound to see if there’s a reaction. Dr. Ziegner may also order other tests, including blood tests, to help identify food-specific antibodies in the blood.

Managing food allergies

Armed with knowing what foods you’re allergic to, you can then avoid those foods. For certain foods, this may be simple. For others, it may take some adjustment. You’ll need to remain vigilant in reading ingredients, checking menus, and checking with servers and chefs at restaurants to ensure the food you eat is free of allergens.

If you have a food allergy and want guidance, or if you want to see if you have a food allergy, book and appointment online or over the phone with Riviera Allergy Medical Center today.

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