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Common Food Allergies and How to Manage Them in 2024

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Our body's immune system is a powerful defender against germs that can lead to illness. However, when the immune system overreacts to harmless food proteins, it can trigger a food allergy reaction. This phenomenon, while often more prevalent in infants and children, can manifest at any age, even appearing suddenly in people who have consumed a particular food without issue for years.

It's crucial to distinguish between food allergies and food intolerances, as there is testing available for food allergies.  However, there is no testing available for most food intolerances or sensitivities.

11 food allergy symptoms

Food allergy symptoms vary in intensity and can emerge minutes to hours after consuming the allergen. Recognizable signs, as outlined by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, include:

  1. Hives
  2. Flushed skin or rash
  3. Tingling or itchy sensation in the mouth
  4. Face, tongue, or lip swelling
  5. Vomiting and/or diarrhea
  6. Abdominal cramps
  7. Coughing or wheezing
  8. Dizziness and/or lightheadedness
  9. Swelling of the throat and vocal cords
  10. Difficulty breathing
  11. Loss of consciousness

While most food reactions are mild, others can escalate into a condition known as anaphylaxis. This reaction can be fatal and should be treated promptly with immediate injection of epinephrine.

The top nine food allergies

Originally, the Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act of 2004 identified eight major food allergens:

  1. Milk
  2. Eggs
  3. Fish
  4. Shellfish
  5. Tree nuts
  6. Peanuts
  7. Wheat
  8. Soybeans

In 2021, sesame was added as the ninth major allergen. However, it's crucial to note that any food, not just those on the list, can trigger an allergic response.

Diagnosis and management

Seeking the expertise of an allergist is the first step in addressing suspected food allergies. A thorough medical history and appropriate tests, such as skin-prick tests or allergy blood tests, can aid in diagnosis, however the most important part of diagnosing food allergy is the patient's history (what they ate, timeline of events). These tests don't identify food intolerances or sensitivities that we know exist, yet can be challenging to identify and treat given these current limits.

An elimination diet may be recommended to pinpoint food sensitivities. Patients avoid suspected foods and gradually reintroduce them, helping link specific foods to reactions.

For those with known allergies, newer treatments like omalizumab, an injectable prescription medication, have shown promise in increasing tolerance to allergens, reducing the risk of severe reactions from accidental exposure.

Navigating everyday life

People with food allergies should exercise caution, particularly when dining out. Communicating allergies to servers and, if possible, speaking directly with the chef, can help with a safer dining experience.

In Louisiana, where the culture revolves around food, particularly seafood, a prevalent allergen, understanding food allergies becomes crucial. Educating ourselves about these allergies becomes an essential ingredient for a safer, healthier life.

Learn more about Nina Hein, MD

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