With fad diets so popular, and people avoiding everything from gluten to meat to correspond with their diet of choice, it can be hard to determine whether someone's reason for avoiding a particular food group is because of a lifestyle choice or an allergy. Food allergies often get overlooked because they are misunderstood or brushed off as something casual and not serious. However, the opposite is true. Eating a particular food product that is an allergy trigger can cause something as seemingly simple and minor as itchiness to morph into anaphylactic shock and possibly even death in the blink of an eye. Before you think about brushing off your friend's aversion to seafood as them simply being dramatic or in strict adherence to a fad diet, it's important to take into account the possibility of a food allergy and be aware of the most significant facts.
1. How prevalent are food allergies?
According to Food Allergy Research & Education, up to 15 million people in the U.S. have food allergies, with about 6 million being children and 9 million adults. Food allergies can affect anyone of any age, but they often show up in youth, when the person is typically first introduced to the offending food.
2. What are some common triggers?
Your family history of allergies and excessive exposure to a certain food are both factors that can play a role in your development of food allergies. While it is possible for a person to develop food allergies to virtually anything, these are several of the most common culprits:
- Tree nuts (walnuts, cashews, almonds, pecans, pistachios)
- Seafood and shellfish (fish, lobsters, crab, shrimp)
- Milk and dairy
3. What happens to the body during an allergic reaction?
Allergic reactions are a product of the immune system. The CDC defines a food allergy as when a person experiences an immune response to particular foods, which is replicated upon each encounter with the offending food. To go into more detail, when your body is exposed to a certain food—which it mistakenly regards as an allergen or foreign invader—your body creates and releases a bunch of histamines and other substances that create the allergic reaction.
4. What are the symptoms of a food allergy?
As soon as the allergen comes into contact with your body from consumption, touch or even through inhalation of the food's proteins—your immune system goes into attack mode, which manifests in a variety of symptoms:
- Itchiness, burning or tingling of the tongue, mouth, or lips
- Swelling of the tongue, lips or throat (or a feeling of thickness)
- Hives or a skin rash
- Difficulty breathing
- Rapid heartbeat
- Dramatic dip in blood pressure
- Anaphylaxis (a severe, whole-body reaction)
- Loss of consciousness
5. What treatments are available?
Food allergies typically stick around for the long haul, but it is possible to reduce the number of allergic occurrences or even erase them completely. The avoidance method is most effective, as it's comprised of simply removing the trigger food from your diet altogether. This makes experiencing a reaction highly unlikely, unless you are extremely sensitive to inhaling and even touching the food—at which point you should not even be in the same room as the specific food. If accidentally ingested or a reaction occurs, it's critical to take immediate action to stop the reaction from intensifying. While antihistamines may help with minor reactions, they are not recommended for dealing with major allergic reactions containing anaphylactic symptoms. Injecting epinephrine through an EpiPen, for example, can be a lifesaver when it comes to buying time while delaying and improving the reaction until you reach a hospital. Epinephrine works by opening your airways and constricting your blood vessels to boost your blood pressure, which typically takes a plunge during an allergic reaction; in addition, it prevents your immune system from releasing any more histamines or chemicals that contribute to the reaction. Carrying an EpiPen at all times is recommended for those with food allergies. After injecting epinephrine, you should immediately call 911 or go to the nearest emergency room for further medical attention.
While food allergies can definitely be scary, it is possible to live a healthy life with them and prevent them from causing severe problems. If you think it's possible you might have a food allergy, it's best to get checked out by your doctor or an allergist.
We hope this was able to help improve your understanding of food allergies. Thanks for reading, and come back next week for more health news!