Food Allergies

Allergy specialist Dr. Warner W. Carr explains what food allergies are and how to treat them:

What is a food allergy?

Your body can develop an allergy to any number elements in your environment. This happens when your immune system makes the allergic antibody Immunoglobulin E (or IgE) to a food that you have developed food allergy.  These types of allergies are more common in children, but some may persist for life.  Furthermore, you may develop a new allergy at any age. Food allergies are most common in those children who have other allergies, such as allergic rhinitis (hay fever), and eczema (dry, itchy, red skin rash). Once food allergies have developed, avoiding these foods is imperative, as severe allergic reactions may take place which may be life threatening.  In fact, once the allergy is established, only a tiny amount is required to trigger the allergic reaction. These reactions can be sudden and require immediate treatment to potentially prevent death.

What are the most common triggers for food allergy?

Many different foods can cause an allergic reaction. The foods that most often cause a reaction are:

• Cow’s milk
• Eggs
• Peanuts
• Tree nuts
• Seafood, especially shellfish
• Wheat
• Soy

People who have asthma, especially when it is not adequately controlled, have an increased risk of a severe or fatal reaction.

What are the symptoms of food allergy?

Different people may react differently, and a single person may not have the same reaction twice. In other words, there is no way to tell how severe a food allergy reaction may become so prompt treatment is always recommended. In some patients the reaction may occur immediately after contact with food. In others it may be delayed for several hours. Symptoms may be mild with only a rash, or they might be life-threatening if the allergy causes anaphylaxis.

Symptoms may include:
• Wheezing or trouble breathing
• Skin rash or hives
• Itching all over
• Swelling in the lips, face, throat, or other part of the body
• Vomiting
• Diarrhea
• Stomach cramps
• Coughing
• Change of voice
• Trouble swallowing
• Throat tightness or closing
• Red, watery eyes
• Dizziness
• Fainting

How are food allergies treated?

There is no cure for food allergies. Strict avoidance of foods you are allergic to is the only way to prevent a reaction. Over time, with certain foods and strict avoidance, the allergy may wane. This usually occurs in children who have mild food allergy reactions. Certain food allergies, such as nuts, never go away and will have to be avoided for life.

What can I do to prevent accidental exposure?

The only way to prevent accidental exposure is strict food avoidance, especially when eating out of your house, at a friend’s house or at school. It is extremely important that you learn how to read food labels and ask about ingredients in foods that you have not prepared (schools, daycare and restaurants).

In addition to having the epinephrine shot available, a person with allergies should wear a medical I.D. bracelet or necklace that informs others about their allergies.