Allergies exist in different forms. However, the most common ones are something that can be experienced almost every day if one is not careful enough to watch what they eat.
Food allergies are one of the most common allergy types, inflicting about 32 million Americans. 5.6 million of this statistic are children who are below 18 years of age.
Asians show more resistance to food allergies. In Singapore, there is no significant statistic that shows how much the country is affected by food allergies.
The most common cause of food allergies is triggered by shellfish, which affects 7 million adults in the United States. This is followed by milk and peanut allergies which both affect about 5 million people. In Singapore and other parts of Asia, fish and other shellfish are the usual sources of food allergies.
Read through to find out more about this condition, plus know the proper first-aid measures that you should take note of in case someone with you starts suffering from food allergies and falls into shock.
What are Food Allergies?
Food allergies are your body’s abnormal response against foreign substances, usually in the form of food allergens. What happens is that the immune system identifies the proteins in some foods as harmful. As a form of protection, the body produces unusual reactions as a warning signal, releasing chemicals in the process. This in turn leads to inflammation.
What Causes Food Allergies?
Food allergies are caused by allergens that are present in the food. These allergens are often food proteins that the body recognises as unsafe. Because of this, the body produces histamines. Histamine is a chemical that regulates the body’s normal functions, so it helps the body get rid of unwanted substances that it recognises as a threat. Histamine is responsible for inflammation.
Common Foods that Trigger Allergies
For the record, any type of food can cause allergies. However, only 8 are commonly known to cause allergies. These include:
Allergies caused by cow’s milk are one of the most common allergies that are acquired by babies and toddlers. These allergies develop when kids are exposed to cow’s milk protein before they are at least 6 months old. Allergies from cow’s milk are not limited to it. An allergy to cow’s milk may involve steering away from the intake of foods and drinks that contain it. These include:
- Milk powder
- Ice cream
Mothers who are breastfeeding to babies with allergies must also remove cow’s milk from their diet.
Next to cow’s milk, eggs are the second most common childhood allergies. Egg allergies, however, usually dissipate when a child turns 16. Some people are allergic to egg whites only and not yolks. Sometimes it’s the other way around. This is because of the slight difference in the protein makeup of the egg whites and the yolks. Allergies to egg whites, however, are more common.
Nuts (tree nuts and peanuts)
Allergies to nuts can be divided into two: allergies from tree nuts and allergies from peanuts. While these are both belong to the nut family, allergies that arise from these two are considered different from each other, particularly since peanuts are classified as a legume. Tree nut allergy comes from the intake of some nuts and seeds that come from trees.
- Examples of tree nuts include:
- Macadamia nuts
- Pine nuts
- Brazil nuts
Individuals who have tree nut allergies are advised to refrain from taking all types of tree nuts, despite being allergic only to a certain type. Being allergic to one type of tree nut makes you more susceptible to developing allergies to other types of tree nuts.
This type of allergy may have serious consequences. Severe instances of tree nut allergies oftentimes result in anaphylaxis. Furthermore, this type of allergy has been associated with at least 50% of anaphylaxis-related deaths.
Tree nut allergies are a lasting condition, so individuals who acquired this allergy may have to deal with this condition for most of their lives.
Peanut allergies, on the other hand, have no known cause. Earlier studies have attributed the development of this allergy type to the diet of the breastfeeding mother.
About 15 to 22% of children who acquire peanut allergies usually get over the condition as they transition towards their teenage years.
Someone who is allergic to peanuts is often allergic to tree nuts as well.
Treatment of peanut allergies often involves avoiding foods and beverages that have peanuts.
Seafood, particularly shellfish, is also known to cause food allergies. This type of allergy is triggered by the proteins present in the crustacean and mollusk fish families. This protein is called tropomyosin, but other proteins like arginine kinase and myosin light chain can also contribute to an allergic reaction. Shellfish include:
The symptoms of shellfish allergy often manifest quickly.
If you have been diagnosed with this condition, excluding shellfish from your diet prevents you from having an allergic episode.
In some cases, even the steam that comes from cooking shellfish can trigger an allergic reaction to those who have been diagnosed with this condition.
This type of allergy is caused by the protein in soybeans and other soybean-based foods. Soy allergies often develop in babies below 3 years of age. In some cases, children who are allergic to cow’s milk also develop allergies to soy. About 70% of children who have soy allergies recover from the condition. There are instances when a soy allergy can lead to anaphylaxis, although this is rare. Reading food labels carefully and knowing exactly what is in your meals are helpful in preventing soy allergy episodes.
This type of allergy affects children often, although as they grow up, this condition usually goes away. Avoiding foods and cosmetic products that contain wheat is advised for individuals who suffer from wheat allergies.
Fish allergies often affect adults more than children. Most fish allergy cases develop during adulthood, with at least 40% of people acquiring the allergy in their adult years. Just like shellfish allergies, fish allergies also tend to be severe and may even lead to anaphylaxis. People with shellfish allergy are not necessarily allergic to fish, because the protein makeup of these two is not the same. However, one who is allergic to a particular fish may also become allergic to another fish type.
While there are foods that commonly cause allergies, there are also foods that are capable of causing allergies although these instances are less common.
- Sesame seeds
- Kiwi fruit
- Passion fruit
- Mustard seeds
Symptoms of Food Allergies
You can tell a person is allergic to a certain food if you notice these signs and symptoms:
- Itchiness that can be felt inside the mouth, throat, or ears
- Raised dry itchy red rashes on the skin (urticaria, hives, or eczema)
- A runny or stuffy nose
- Slight, dry cough
- Water, red eyes
Allergies caused by tree nuts, peanuts, shellfish, and fish often manifest in more severe symptoms. These symptoms may show up as:
- Breathing difficulties
- Trouble swallowing
- Swelling of areas of the face like the area around the eyes, tongue, and roof of the mouth
- Lightheadedness or the feeling of passing out
- Chest pains and uneven heartbeats
Who is at risk for Food Allergies?
Certain factors place a person at a higher risk of having food allergies.
If conditions like asthma, eczema, hives, or hay fever allergies run in the family, then your chances of developing food allergies are higher.
Other Allergic Conditions
Having allergies to a certain type of food can also be a huge factor for you to develop allergies to another type of food. Similarly, if you are already suffering from conditions like hay fever or eczema, you are more likely to acquire food allergies.
Most allergies are developed during childhood. This is because there is a variety of foods that haven’t been introduced to them, and since the body tags the proteins present in these foods as foreign and unsafe, the allergies develop.
The good thing is that most of the food allergies that develop in childhood typically recover. However, severe allergies like those of nuts and shellfish are often lifelong.
Treatment for Food Allergies
People who have been diagnosed with food allergies are advised to avoid the foods that trigger their allergies. However, there are still instances where these foods slip into the meals without the person’s knowledge. In that case, quick-acting treatments and medications must always be ready for use.
Antihistamines are known to relieve symptoms of minor food allergies. These drugs can help alleviate the itching (hives) brought about by a food allergy.
However, antihistamines are only for minor allergic reactions. This drug cannot be used for treating severe food allergies.
Antihistamines can be over the counter or prescribed.
Epinephrine, more commonly known as adrenaline, is an injection that maintains the body’s physiological functions during a severe allergic reaction.
The adrenaline boosts the body’s stress response system, maintaining heart function and blood pressure. With the use of adrenaline in a severe allergy situation, the person’s breathing returns to normal.
People who are allergic to foods like peanuts, tree nuts, shellfish, and fish are advised to bring with them an auto-injector like epi-pen as these allergies can be quite severe.
An epi-pen is an injectable device that carries a shot of adrenaline. In case of emergencies like anaphylaxis, an epi-pen can become an ultimate life-saver.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can a food allergy affect your eyes?
There are instances where food allergies can affect the eyes, and even cause eye allergy concerns. This is because the antibodies produced by the immune system cause the eyes to release histamines, making them feel itchy, red, and watery.
How long do food allergies last?
It’s hard to tell when you will be able to recover from food allergies. Common allergies that are developed during childhood are often gone before turning 16 or earlier. These include allergies to cow’s milk, egg, wheat, and soy. However, allergies from foods like tree nuts, peanuts, shellfish, and fish are often lifelong conditions.