Food allergies are becoming common place. With each new generation, the number of people with identified food allergies is increasing. The body can develop an allergy to almost any food.
Allergies are ever changing in that some people may acquire new allergies or lose old ones as their body ages. While this may seem like a scary thought, here is a list of 8 of the most common food allergies today, and how to avoid allergic reactions to those foods.
First, let’s talk about why allergies are bad for the body. Allergic reactions are basically just your immune system acting as it normally would against any bacteria or virus. In the case of food allergies, for some reason your body identifies that food, or one of its components, to be a foreign object like a bacteria or virus.
This means that your body is overreacting to something that is harmless. When you aren’t actually sick, and there is nothing for the immune system to fight off and it makes the bodies reaction more noticeable.
The body reacts mostly by causing inflammation in one way or another. This inflation is caused by the chemical histamine.
Some of the symptoms that people with food allergies make experience include the following:
- Itchy rash
- Swelling of the tongue, mouth, or face
- Difficulty breathing
- Low blood pressure
Each person has their own unique level of reaction to coming in contact with food allergens. Each person also has their own unique level of sensitivity to allergens. While two people may be allergic to peanuts, one may be able to handle small amounts of peanuts used as an ingredient for a packaged food product, while the other may not be able to touch the table where someone had placed their peanut butter sandwich a few minutes earlier.
In this same example, the person who can consume small amounts of peanuts may know that it gives them diarrhea, or they may be completely oblivious to the fact that their minor diarrhea is actually an allergic reaction to peanuts. When allergic reactions are not severe, it is common that someone would never identify that they even had a food allergy.
Some reactions to food allergens are so severe that they could cause death. Anaphylaxis (the swelling of the throat or tongue, shortness of breath, and low blood pressure) can be such a severe reaction that it prevents the person from breathing. This can be a fatal experience for some, particularly when the reaction is to an unidentified food allergy they are not prepared to cope with.
Let’s identify some of the most common food allergies out there today, and how each one affects the body.
Common Food Allergies List
Let’s start with our example food, peanuts. Peanut allergies are one of the most common food allergies, and can have one of the most severe reactions. Peanut allergies have been known to result in fatal anaphylaxis. The triggers for peanut allergies can be from peanuts themselves, the oils from peanuts, peanut butter, and even peanut dust.
Discussions on why peanut allergies exist and potential ways to prevent them are a hot topic amongst mothers and child care professionals. While of course children with family that are allergic to peanuts are genetically inclined to have the same allergic reaction, in recent years it became common practice for all babies (under the age of 3 years old) to avoid peanuts.
This includes breastfeeding mothers eliminating peanuts from their diet until after the breastfeeding phase is over. While this safety measure is meant to keep babies safe from the chances of suffering an extreme allergic reaction such as anaphylaxis, it is now thought to have been the cause for the rising number of small children with identified peanut allergies.
By eliminating the exposure to peanuts in children under 3 years old, it is thought that the body does not learn to accept and react to peanuts. Therefore, when the child is older, and their body experiences peanuts for the first time it may have a negative reaction to the new “unidentified” foreign object.
Allergy to peanuts is typically a lifelong allergy. While there are no conclusive treatments of peanut allergies, the above idea has been put into practice under strict medical supervision. By introducing the body to peanuts in small doses, it may be possible to desensitize the body to peanuts and reduce the allergic reaction.
Those who do have an allergy to peanuts, as well as other nut allergies, are advised to carry an epi-pen. This device administers a dose of adrenaline to someone having an allergic reaction, which can reverse allergic reactions and potentially save the person’s life.
2. Tree Nuts
Tree nut allergies are very similar to peanut allergies in both symptoms and treatments. Many people with allergies to peanuts will also have some allergic reaction to tree nuts as well. They are considered separate allergies since peanuts are not technically a “nut”. Some examples of tree nuts include:
As with peanut allergies, there is no treatment for this lifelong allergy. All that can be done is the avoidance of tree nuts as well as their oils and butters. An epi-pen is also an effective tool for treating allergic reactions to tree nuts.
3. Cow’s Milk
Allergies to cow’s milk are typically only found in small children and babies who were exposed to cow’s milk before the age of 6 months. Most will outgrow an allergy to cow’s milk by 3 years old. Most people with allergy to cow’s milk will experience rashes, swelling, vomiting, constipation, and diarrhea. In some extreme cases, anaphylaxis may also occur.
As this is an allergy that is typically grown out of, the only “treatment” is to avoid the following food items:
- Ice cream
- Milk powder
The avoidance of the above food items may also include the diet of mothers that are breastfeeding a child with an allergy to cow’s milk. There any many alternatives to cow’s milk, but when looking to replace cow’s milk in the diet of a baby, consult a health professional for the best formula options.
Shellfish allergies are a reaction to a specific protein (or proteins) that is present in mollusks and crustaceans. Some examples of foods that should be avoided if you have a shellfish allergy include the following:
Tropomyosin is the protein responsible for most allergic reactions. However kinase, arginine, and myosin may also cause an immune response. It is important to note that when cooking shellfish, the vapors in the air may carry some of these proteins and cause an allergic reaction. It is advised that those with shellfish allergies not be around when shellfish are being cooked.
The symptoms of shellfish allergies are typically vomiting, diarrhea, and stomach pain. Those symptoms make identifying an allergy to shellfish complicated to diagnose. Those symptoms are also seen when the body reacts to contaminated shellfish, meaning it is difficult to know if someone simply ate contaminated seafood, or if they are having an actual allergic reaction.
Typically, allergies to shellfish are lifelong allergies, though some may not develop the allergy later in life. Once the allergy develops it is unlikely for it to dissolve. There is no treatment for shellfish allergies except avoiding the list of foods above.
Allergies to fin fish are also very common. They are similar to shellfish allergies as they are caused by proteins in the fish and cause similar symptoms. The proteins in fin fish however are different than the ones contained in shellfish. This means that some people may be able to eat one, but not the other.
Similarly to shellfish allergies, it is difficult to distinguish an allergic reaction from a reaction to contaminated fish. People with a fish allergy will have allergies to one or more families of fish.
It is common for fish allergies to develop later in life. There is no treatment other than avoiding fin fish.
Allergies to eggs are another allergy typically only found in children. More than half of the children who have an allergy to eggs will outgrow the allergy before they turn 16 years old.
The proteins that typically trigger egg allergies are mostly found in the egg white. The symptoms associated with an egg allergy are rash, hives, stomach ache, and only in extreme cases respiratory distress which could lead to anaphylaxis.
The treatment for an egg allergy is to follow an egg-free diet. In some cases, people with egg allergies can actually tolerate food products that are made with eggs such as cakes and biscuits.
The cooking process alters the allergy causing protein enough to keep the body from reacting to it. If you want to explore the possibility of being able to introduce eggs into an egg-free diet, you should consult a physician first.
Allergy to soy is one of the least common on this list. It is typically seen in children under the age of 3 years old and outgrown after that. Like most of the allergies we have discussed, the allergic reaction is created by a protein in soybeans.
Soy is common in many foods, so it is important to read labels if you have a soy allergy. Some soy specific foods to avoid include soy milk, soybeans, and soy sauce.
As usual, the treatment for soy allergies is to eliminate soy from the diet completely. This means truly researching the foods you eat and making sure that they do not include soy.
Commonly confused with intolerance to gluten, there are actually people who are allergic to wheat. This allergy is typically seen in children under ten and is outgrown after that. Skin prick testing is the most common way to diagnose wheat allergies.
One of the hundreds of proteins found in wheat will cause an allergic reaction in some people. Symptoms of wheat allergies include stomach pain, vomiting, rash, hives, swelling, and sometimes in extreme cases, anaphylaxis.
While gluten sensitivity is also represented by an immune response specifically to the gluten protein, it is not considered an allergy as it is not life threatening. However, most people with gluten sensitivity take a similar approach to treatment by avoiding all foods that contain gluten. Those who are allergic to wheat may not be allergic to gluten, and should be able to consume gluten from non-wheat sources.
A wheat-free diet is the only treatment. It is important to note that wheat is also used in some cosmetic products, so it is important to read the labels on all products before using them if you have a wheat allergy.
If You Think You May Have a Food Allergy…
Talk to your doctor immediately. It is difficult to discern food allergies from food intolerances. It is important to get professional help in diagnosing potential allergies. Some of the tests a doctor may request to determine if you have a food allergy:
- Dietary Review: basically a food journal in which you track foods eaten, including the time it was eaten and any symptoms you may have experienced
- Skin Prick Testing: a series of tiny needles are coated with the food(s) to be tested and placed into the skin (typically on the back). The doctors then monitor the skin’s reaction to the needle to determine if there is an allergic reaction.
- Oral Food Challenges: basically you eat the suspect food in a controlled environment, during a controlled test under medical supervision.
- Blood Tests: just drawing blood to check which anti-bodies may be present.
In conclusion, allergies to food are very common. Allergies are all potentially life threatening immune responses to proteins in certain foods. While the above list includes 8 of the most common food allergies, ANY food could cause an allergic reaction for any person. Allergies are extremely unique and can affect anybody.
If you think you may have an allergy, you should discuss it with your doctor.