Food Allergies – Definition & Detailed Explanation – Nutrition & Supplements Glossary

I. What are food allergies?

Food allergies are a common immune system response to certain foods that are typically harmless to most people. When someone with a food allergy consumes a specific food, their immune system mistakenly identifies it as a threat and produces antibodies to fight off the perceived invader. This immune response can lead to a variety of symptoms, ranging from mild discomfort to severe and potentially life-threatening reactions.

II. What are the common symptoms of food allergies?

The symptoms of a food allergy can vary widely from person to person and can range from mild to severe. Common symptoms include hives, itching, swelling of the lips, tongue, or throat, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain, and difficulty breathing. In severe cases, a food allergy can cause anaphylaxis, a potentially life-threatening reaction that requires immediate medical attention.

III. How are food allergies diagnosed?

Food allergies are typically diagnosed through a combination of medical history, physical examination, and allergy testing. A healthcare provider will ask about the individual’s symptoms, when they occur, and what foods may be causing them. Allergy testing, such as skin prick tests or blood tests, can help identify specific food allergens that may be triggering the immune response.

IV. What are the most common food allergens?

While any food has the potential to cause an allergic reaction, there are eight major food allergens that account for the majority of food allergies. These include milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, soy, wheat, fish, and shellfish. It is important for individuals with food allergies to carefully read food labels and be aware of potential cross-contamination with allergens in order to avoid triggering a reaction.

V. How are food allergies managed and treated?

The most effective way to manage a food allergy is to avoid the allergen altogether. This may require reading food labels, asking about ingredients in restaurant meals, and being prepared with an emergency action plan in case of accidental exposure. In cases of accidental ingestion, antihistamines may help relieve mild symptoms, while epinephrine is the first-line treatment for severe allergic reactions.

VI. What is the difference between a food allergy and a food intolerance?

While food allergies and food intolerances can both cause symptoms after consuming certain foods, they are distinct conditions with different underlying mechanisms. Food allergies involve the immune system’s response to a specific food protein, while food intolerances are typically due to the body’s inability to properly digest or metabolize certain components of food, such as lactose or gluten. Food allergies can be life-threatening, while food intolerances are generally less severe. It is important for individuals to work with a healthcare provider to accurately diagnose and manage their food-related symptoms.