Food allergies affect approximately 6-8% of children less than 3 years of age. The most common foods that affect children include: milk, egg, peanut, soy, and wheat. Fortunately, the majority of children will outgrow their food allergy before the age of five. However, most children with a peanut allergy will never outgrow this allergy.
In adults food allergy is much less common and affects approximately 1% of the population. The foods that account for the majority of adult reactions include peanuts, tree nuts, shellfish, and fish. These allergies are almost never outgrown.
Food allergy can present in a number of ways. Reactions can be isolated to skin or generalized, resulting in a life-threatening event. Typical skin reactions include hives, which can be localized to a small area or generalized, covering the entire body. Swelling, also known as angioedema, can also be a presenting sign and commonly involves the lips, eyes, face and tongue. If the swelling involves the throat it could be life threatening. Ingestion of allergic foods can also trigger asthma and eczema. Severe systemic reactions can also occur. This type of reaction is referred to as anaphylaxis. Presenting signs and symptoms can include swelling of the throat, wheezing, shortness of breath, lightheadedness, loss of consciousness, and shock, or any of the above. This type of reaction needs to be treated immediately, or death could occur. Unfortunately people die each year from allergic reactions to foods.
Do you think you have a food allergy?
If you feel that you or your children are allergic to a food or foods you should be evaluated by an Allergist. These doctors are specifically trained to diagnose and treat allergic reactions. Evaluation will include a careful history of the type of reaction and the food involved. From there, testing may be required.
Testing may include skin testing or a blood test. In some cases a food challenge may be required. If a food allergy is confirmed your doctor will go over with you what will be required to avoid accidental ingestion of the food or foods. This may sound easy on the surface but can be very difficult. Many of the common allergenic foods such as milk, eggs, wheat, soy and peanuts are frequently found in small amounts in a large number of other foods. Because accidental ingestion accounts for most allergic reactions, you will be required to read food labels to ensure no accidents occur. Your doctor can provide you with a handout on your food allergy as well as other helpful information.
Written by Allergy Care physician, Thomas Glass, M.D.