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Food for Thought

Signs that You are Allergic to What You Eat

Little girl with dairy allergy holding glass of milk indoors

By Pete Alfano

Who doesn’t like a peanut butter and jelly sandwich? It is a go-to food filling school lunch boxes across the country. But now, some parents may hesitate to give their children nuts in any form because of a perception that peanut and tree nut allergies are on the rise.

Is that perception accurate, or is this a case of people having a greater general awareness of food allergies? For example, statistically, only one to two percent of children suffer from allergies to nuts. But while allergic reactions may be mild for some, they can be more serious and even life-threatening for others.

The facts are, however, that adults and children can suffer from food allergies, and peanuts are not the only culprit. Dairy products such as milk and eggs, shellfish, other seafood such as tuna, cod, and salmon, and wheat and soy products may be kryptonite for young and older alike.

So, how can you know unless you eat those products and wait for a possible allergic reaction? Start with the fact that food allergies may have a genetic component, although medical experts believe that environmental factors play a strong role too. An allergist can test you for food allergies with a blood test or the pinprick method. Testing is recommended for babies who have recurring or severe eczema.It is also important to distinguish between a food allergy and food intolerance. An allergy prompts a reaction from the immune system, which identifies the food as harmful and releases cells to fight something that can harm you. Food intolerance is a digestive problem that may make you uncomfortable but is not potentially life-threatening.

For example, people who are gluten or lactose intolerant generally avoid those products, have them only occasionally and in small amounts, or reach for anti-acids. Intolerance of some foods is a life-long problem. Those who suffer from irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) are more likely to have an intolerance to some food resulting in bloating, heartburn, belly pain, and headaches.    

Food allergy symptoms are far more severe and should not be ignored. You may experience a tingling sensation, itching, and eczema. More pronounced signs include wheezing, light-headedness, nasal congestion, abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, swelling of the face, lips, or tongue, and trouble breathing.

The most severe allergic reaction is called anaphylaxis. The symptoms of anaphylaxis shock are a rapid pulse, shock, constricted airways, swollen throat, and loss of consciousness. Obviously, these reactions require immediate
emergency care.

You don’t want to find out the hard way, however. Testing will determine if you are allergic to any food. Chronicling what you eat and how your body responds can help pinpoint foods you should avoid. There are treatments for food allergies, ranging from antihistamines to epinephrine injections, but there is no cure.

Connecting Allergies

It is estimated that allergies are the sixth leading cause of chronic illness in the United States. Does a food allergy make you more susceptible to environmental allergies such as grass, ragweed pollen, and hay fever? The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says children with food allergies are two-to-four times more likely to suffer from environmental allergies.

Conversely, people with asthma are more likely to have food allergies as well. The immune system is put to the test, fighting symptoms of food and environmental allergies. So, that runny or stuffy nose, wheezing, sneezing, burning eyes, and itching may be more than just a nuisance. It can make life miserable and create other health issues.  

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