A food allergy may develop at any age. It is always better
to have it diagnosed as early as possible, as it could otherwise impede the
absorption of the correct proteins and minerals. For example, if a person is
allergic to egg whites, a vaccine can prevent it. Often, food allergies are
overlooked, as their symptoms tend to be misdiagnosed for other conditions,
which could potentially be dangerous. The best way to determine a food allergy
is to check the timing of the reaction and whether it came on quickly, within
an hour after eating the food, or if the reaction always occurs with a certain
food type only. One can also try and recall if anyone else got sick eating the
particular food. It is also important to determine how much one ate before
experiencing the reaction. The severity of the reaction is sometimes related to
the amount of food eaten. If other foods were also eaten at the time of the
allergic reaction, there may be a delay in the digestion and, therefore, a
delay in the onset of the allergic reaction. All these are important points to
be noted to diagnose food allergy. Allergy-prone people must be aware of the
methods to handle an attack during the preparation and serving of food. If
there is cross-contamination while cooking when the same utensils, food
containers, cutting boards and serving dishes or even the same cooking oil is
used, it could cause a problem. The symptoms of food allergy usually include
nausea, headaches, rashes, constricted breathing or a blockage in blood supply
which could also be fatal. This happens when the body’s immune system reacts
negatively to the protein present in that food. When a person is allergic to a
specific protein, the antibody immunoglobulin E (IgE) is released in the body,
and a high concentration of IgE triggers a range of symptoms, resulting in
swelling of skin and subcutaneous tissue, thus blocking blood supply. A food
allergy is a more serious condition than food intolerance. The intolerance
towards a specific food differs from an allergy and is usually caused by the
lack of an enzyme to digest that food. Lactose intolerance is one of the most
common examples of food intolerance.
People who are lactose intolerant lack the lactase enzyme
that is needed to digest the milk sugar lactose and can cause a bloated stomach,
flatulence, cramps and diarrhoea. Processed foods like bottled juices,
sausages, meats, canned seafood, pickled onions and dried fruits contain
sulphites used as preservatives. These could cause problems too. Usually,
allergic reactions can occur in foods such as eggs, peanuts or fish, all of
which are on the list of foods that allergy specialists now term as the most
common allergenic foods, causing 90% of all allergic reactions.
The most common food allergens include:
1. Shellfish and Fish: While children are more prone to be allergic
to fish, shellfish allergies affect adults more. Shellfish includes prawns, shrimps
and lobsters. Fish allergy, unlike some others, is not often outgrown. In fact,
symptoms become worse with repeated exposure. Sometimes even gelatine (made
from fishbone and skin) can induce an allergy.
2. Eggs: The allergenic proteins are mostly in the egg white
or albumin, but some are also found in the yolk. Cooking tends to make the
allergens inactive, so it is better to eat well-cooked eggs rather than raw or
3. Soy: Soybeans, like
peanuts, are legumes, so those allergic to them may also need to beware of
other legumes, including green peas, chickpeas and all beans. Soy is used in a
lot of processed foods, so read food labels carefully.
4. Peanuts and Other Nuts: Peanuts are said to be one of the
commonest allergy-inducing foods, and can be life-threatening. Children with a family
history of allergies should not be given peanuts or peanut products until the
age of 3. Other nuts include cashew, chestnut, walnut, almond, hazelnut and
5. Wheat: The proteins (especially gluten) in wheat can
trigger an allergic reaction. An adverse reaction to gluten in grains such as
wheat, rye, oats and barley is diagnosed as celiac disease.
6. Cow’s Milk: Besides lactose intolerance, cow’s milk can
also trigger an allergy to casein, the protein it contains. If allergic, a
person should avoid all milk products (cheese, dairy, and yogurt).
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