What You Need To Know About Food Allergies

If you know someone with food allergies, these are the signs to look out for.

Thirty-two million Americans suffer from food allergies, so it’s pretty likely you know someone affected by one. Although most food allergies result in mild symptoms, some can cause severe or even life-threatening reactions. Here are a few facts you should know if you or someone you love has a food allergy.

Signs of an allergic reaction can vary. It’s important to be able to recognize the signs of an allergic reaction, but they’re not the same for everyone. They may even be different for the same person on different occasions. Most symptoms appear within minutes or up to 2 hours after contact with an allergen. Common symptoms include:

  • Hives, rash or flushed skin
  • Vomiting, diarrhea and/or abdominal cramps
  • Swelling, tingling or itchiness of the mouth, tongue, lips or face
  • Throat swelling or difficulty swallowing
  • Coughing, wheezing or difficulty breathing
  • Dizziness, lightheadedness or loss of consciousness
  • Anaphylactic shock (severe lowering of blood pressure and constricted airways)

Symptoms may be minor or severe. Even if mild, symptoms can become worse so they shouldn’t be ignored. If symptoms are severe or progress quickly, go to the nearest emergency room or call 911.

Food labels contain information about allergens. In the U.S., food manufacturers are required by law to list the 8 most common food allergens on food labels. These account for 90% of allergic reactions to food and include:

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

Some triggering foods have unfamiliar names. For example, ever hear of Kinoko flour? Or okara? These are sources of soy protein that aren’t obviously soy. Since they are associated with a major allergen, the label will list soy in parentheses after the ingredient or include a statement that the product contains soy. But it’s still always important to read labels carefully.

Food allergies and food intolerances are different. A food allergy is an immune response to a specific protein and can be potentially life-threatening. Food intolerances often cause uncomfortable digestive issues and symptoms but are not as serious. It’s important to know whether you have a true food allergy or an intolerance to ensure you get the proper treatment if you come in contact with a triggering food. If you are unsure, talk to your doctor about whether to be tested.


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Date Last Reviewed: March 5, 2020

Editorial Review: Andrea Cohen, Editorial Director, Baldwin Publishing, Inc. Contact Editor

Medical Review: Nora Minno, RD, CDN

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