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Food Allergy

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:

  • Milk
  • Eggs
  • Fish
  • Nuts
  • Shellfish
  • Soy
  • Wheat


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
  • Diarrhea
  • Stomach pain
  • Congestion, sneezing or runny nose
  • Slight, dry cough
  • Odd taste in mouth

Severe Symptoms

  • Swollen lips, tongue and/or throat
  • Difficulty swallowing or breathing
  • Shortness of breath or wheezing
  • Turning blue
  • Low blood pressure (faint, confused, weak)
  • Unconsciousness
  • Chest pain
  • Weak pulse
  • Panic

Treatment Options

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.