What Are the Most Common Food Allergies?
Food allergies are an uncomfortable reaction to a specific food protein. A person's body sees the food as a threat (like when a virus tries to take over) and is therefore allergic to it. People can be allergic to one or more specific foods, with varying degrees of allergic reactions, but there are common food allergies too. Some people get such a severe allergic reaction that it is considered life-threatening, while some may just experience a mild reaction. All the different types of food allergies involve a dangerous type of immune system reaction. However, making it important to understand what to do and how to manage your own food allergy is proactive.
What to Know About Food Allergies
According to the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, food allergies affect between 4% and 6% of the American population. Some people are born with allergies which are diagnosed in childhood, whereas some people appear to only develop an allergy later on in life. Either way, it pays to know about the most common food allergies and what their symptoms are, so that you can learn how to get tested and go on to manage them successfully.
Top 8 Food Allergies
Food is our medicine. It helps us to thrive, grow and have the energy for life. However, sometimes the body can mistake a type of perfectly healthy food for something harmful. This is caused by an immune system overreacting, as it is our immune system’s job to protect us from germs that are trying to invade a healthy body. In the case of food allergies, our bodies mistakenly perceive the food as a harmful invader.
The list below presents common foods that cause allergies. We are all unique and there could be foods not listed that cause you to have an allergic reaction as well, which can be identified with your doctor. The most common food allergies are:
- Tree nuts
How to Get Tested for Food Allergies
Food allergies are also not to be confused with food intolerances, which are non-life threatening. Symptoms of food intolerances are also generally slower to develop, whereas a food allergy can happen in a matter of seconds, to minutes, to hours. Food intolerances can still negatively affect a person's quality of life, so they should always be investigated further if you think you have one or several allergies.
Mild food allergy symptoms include hives and abdominal pain. Severe food allergy symptoms include the throat or tongue swelling, shortness of breath, trouble breathing and anaphylaxis with accompanied low blood pressure.
Due to food allergies being extremely serious and some symptoms overlapping with other medical conditions, it is important that you never self-diagnose an allergy and that you visit an allergist. There can also be danger in excluding a suspected food group when you do not have an allergy because this can cause nutritional deficiencies.
How an Allergist Can Test for Allergies
When you see an allergist, you will most likely start by doing a skin prick test (SPT) to determine what type of food you are allergic to. This is quite a cost-effective route and will give your doctor the results immediately. You can also do them comfortably in the doctor’s office and you should not need to go to a hospital.
The test involves food substances being place under the surface of the skin that you and your doctor determine may be causing you to have a negative reaction.This is not painful and there should not be any bleeding if carried out by a trained professional. The area that is often used for this test is the forearm, but the back and upper arm can be used sometimes.
The allergist will be careful to set out and number each one so that the testing can accurately determine which of the foods, if any, your body is allergic to. If your skin has a white raised bump surrounded by a small circle of itchy red skin, this means you have got a positive result (an allergy) to that specific food. If no changes happen, then you have had a negative reaction to the food.
If you have an allergy, then the results will state that you have got a high IgE (immunoglobulin) count, which is a type of antibody. The test itself takes around 30 minutes to get the answers to each food substance tested.
Food Allergy Testing Awareness
The caveat to skin testing for food allergies is that there can be false positives obtained from foods that are in the same family as other foods that are not being tested, such as peanuts. Peanuts contain a similar protein found in green beans. This can cause a test for green beans to come back positive for an allergy response. Meanwhile, you may have never had an issue with green beans, yet the test is trying to correctly identify peanuts which you may have noticed caused a reaction prior.
This is one of the reasons that 50% to 60% of SPTs can give a false positive and is also why it is important to take note of actual symptoms experienced before having the food allergy test. There are very few times that a SPT produces a false negative test. Even so, your allergist will combine SPTs, symptoms experienced and possibly even blood tests if they feel it is necessary to help you determine if you have a food allergy or not.
Your doctor should mention that taking medications such as antihistamines, can have an impact on SPTs. So, if stopping them prior will have a negative impact on your health, your doctor may advise a blood test instead, and an oral food challenge coupled with a food elimination diet.
How to Successfully Manage Food Allergies
Currently, there is no cure for food allergies. Seeking out an allergist is a vital part of managing allergies to ensure that you do have an allergy and that your symptoms are not related to another health condition. You may also be given antihistamines to take when you experience mild food allergy symptoms. If you have serious food allergy reactions, you will be given a controlled amount of epinephrine in an injectable device known as an EpiPen which is the only thing to reverse anaphylactic shock. This is the most severe symptom of a food allergy.
How Parents Should Handle Childhood Food Allergies
For many years, parents have been advised to restrict the most common foods that are known to cause allergies and sometimes avoid them completely until a child has been deemed old enough to handle them. This advice has changed completely based on good scientific studies in recent years, as it is found that having this restrictive approach in young children can actually increase a child’s chance for developing an allergy to a specific food.
So, to further reduce the chances of allergies, parents can play their part by exposing their children at a young age, usually when weaning begins, to an array of foods including those that cause the most food allergies, and of course, still monitoring all foods for a negative reaction.
Good results have been seen when this new approach has been applied to reducing peanut allergy rates. Guidance should still be undertaken by a doctor when applying early exposure to foods, especially in those that have already had signs of food allergy symptoms.
Tips for Coping With Food Allergies
Once you know conclusively that you have a food allergy, life can become more comfortable and easier to navigate, even if it seems overwhelming at first. Other ways to help life become easier when living with food allergies is to try to implement the following tips.
Read the Labels
Ensure you read all food ingredient labels properly before making a food purchase to be sure the food does not contain the food allergen and to make sure it was not made in a factory that had contact with the same specific foods you are allergic to.
Inform People About Your Allergy
Sharing your food allergy status with those around you could save your life, especially if you have severe food allergies that require epinephrine from ingesting small amounts of the food allergen.
Avoid Your Allergy
If you know you are one of the common food allergies, do not even attempt to eat a little bit of that food. If you do find yourself in a situation where you end up taking a couple of bites before finding out it does include a food you are allergic to, stop eating immediately and communicate what has just happened to those in the room so that the emergency services can be called if you end up having a severe reaction.