What Is a Food Allergy?
Food allergy is a potentially life-threatening allergic reaction. Your immune system overreacts to a food or protein. Mild to severe symptoms can occur after eating a tiny amount. Food allergies are common in children, but adults get them, too.
Although symptoms can be similar, food allergy is different from food sensitivity. Intolerances to foods or ingredients – such as lactose or MSG – can cause problematic symptoms, but not serious or life-threatening immune reactions.
Allergies cause immune responses (autoimmunity) that engage your body’s defense system. Your body destroys normal tissues as if they were germs. Avoid allergy-triggering foods, which harm your body. Some responses – such as breathing problems – are medical emergencies.
There is no clear cause, but genes and the environment probably play a role. Common allergens include:
Mild to moderate food allergy symptoms may include:
- Hives (red, swollen or itchy skin)
- Eczema (dry, itchy rash)
- Reddened skin around mouth or eyes
- Itchy mouth or ear canal
- Nausea or vomiting
- Stomach pain
- Congestion, sneezing or runny nose
- Slight, dry cough
- Odd taste in mouth
- Swollen lips, tongue and/or throat
- Difficulty swallowing or breathing
- Shortness of breath or wheezing
- Turning blue
- Low blood pressure (faint, confused, weak)
- Chest pain
- Weak pulse
Your doctor will review your history and may use blood or skin tests, which involve a light prick. The doctor puts a drop of liquid food extract on your skin. If a small red bump appears within 20 minutes, you may be allergic. You may do a challenge test – eating or drinking small, gradually increasing amounts of the food to see if you react.
Treatment includes an elimination diet – removing suspected foods while monitoring symptoms. Be prepared for accidental exposures. Carry an epinephrine (adrenaline) injector. Inform others and wear a medical-alert ID.
When eating out, ask about food preparation and ingredients. If you’re a guest, notify the host. You can avoid certain foods or bring your own.
Ready for an Appointment?
If you're experiencing signs or symptoms of a food allergy, schedule an appointment or call 800-TEMPLE-MED (800-836-7536) today.
Learn more about our doctors and care team who diagnose and treat food allergies.