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How to Determine if You Have a Food Allergy


About 12 million Americans have food allergies, which occur when your immune system overreacts to a food it mistakenly believes is harmful. If your immune system determines, for instance, that peanuts are harmful, it will produce specific immunoglobulin E (IgE) antibodies to peanuts.

If both of your parents have allergies, you have about a 75 percent chance of being allergic as well.

The next time you eat the particular food, your immune system then releases chemicals, including histamine, that are intended to protect your body from the substance. The problem is that these chemicals trigger an array of irritating and potentially very serious symptoms that can impact your respiratory system, gastrointestinal tract, skin and cardiovascular system.

Why Identifying Food Allergies Can be Difficult

Determining whether your symptoms are due to a food allergy or something else -- and if it is a food allergy narrowing down which food or foods are problematic -- can be tricky.

First of all, symptoms can appear within minutes of eating an allergic food, or up to two hours later. Common allergenic foods can also be hidden on labels or exist in dishes you wouldn't expect to find them in, meaning you may not realize that your allergic response to soy was caused by eating a cookie, which unbeknownst to you contained soybean oil.

Finally, the symptoms of food allergy can mimic other conditions and allergies. Common symptoms include:

  • A tingling sensation in your mouth

  • Swelling of your tongue and throat

  • Rash

  • Eczema

  • Hives and swelling

  • Vomiting

  • Abdominal cramps

  • Diarrhea

  • Wheezing

  • Difficulty breathing

  • Drop in blood pressure

  • Loss of consciousness

  • Death through anaphylaxis (rarely)

How do You Know if a Food Allergy is Causing Your Symptoms?

Got Food Allergies? Get The Food Allergy Survival Guide Book!

Food Allergy Survival Guide BookFor a complete guide on how to eat if you have food allergies and intolerances, check out the highly recommended Food Allergy Survival Guide Book. In it you'll learn:

  • How to avoid the foods and ingredients that trigger reactions

  • How to substitute healthful ingredients for those that trigger allergic responses

  • How to meet recommended nutrient intakes while avoiding trigger foods such as dairy products, eggs, gluten-containing grains such as wheat, or other food culprits

  • How to determine which food(s) may be triggers for your symptoms ... and much more!

Find out More About The Food Allergy Survival Guide Book Now!

Typically a food allergy is diagnosed after you notice symptoms associated with a certain food. To help you narrow down what may be causing your symptoms, The Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network suggests keeping track of and writing down the following:

  • How the symptoms felt

  • How soon they came on after eating

  • How long they lasted after eating

  • The food or foods eaten prior to the onset of the symptoms

  • The amount of each food eaten

  • Whether similar reactions have occurred before

There are also two tests that can be used to determine if an allergy exists, and they work by indicating whether or not IgE is present. They are:

  1. A skin prick test: A doctor places a drop of the substance being tested on your forearm or back, then pricks the skin. If you are allergic the site will begin swelling within 15 minutes.

  2. A blood test: These include a RAST (radioallergosorbent test) or a CAP ELISA (enzyme linked immunosorbent assay). The blood sample is sent to a lab where tests are done with specific foods to determine whether your have IgE antibodies to those foods. Results usually take about a week.

Ideally, a food allergy should be diagnosed using the food/symptoms history you've been keeping, along with a skin prick or blood test.

Although you can potentially be allergic to any food, eight foods are responsible for up to 90 percent of all food-allergic reactions. So if you suspect you have a food allergy, one or more of the following eight foods is likely the culprit:

  1. Milk

  2. Eggs

  3. Peanuts

  4. Soy

  5. Wheat

  6. Tree nuts (such as almonds, pecans, Brazil nuts, etc.)

  7. Fish

  8. Shellfish

Tips for People With Food Allergies

So you've determined that you're allergic to a certain food. Now what?

Well, some people do outgrow certain food allergies, but allergies to peanuts, nuts, fish and shellfish are considered a life-long condition. There is currently no way to cure food allergies, so the best, and only, way to avoid a reaction is to strictly avoid the allergy-causing foods.

Though most food allergies begin in childhood before the age of 2, you can develop a food allergy at any age.

The Food and Drug Administration requires that the top eight food allergens be clearly stated on food labels, and it is essential that you learn how to read such labels to avoid the allergen. Keep in mind that many processed foods contain common allergenic ingredients like wheat and soy, so avoiding processed foods may be necessary.

Meanwhile, if you eat out anywhere (from your neighbor's house to your school cafeteria) let the server or cook know that you absolutely cannot have certain ingredients.

Also, be sure to check out The Food Allergy Survival Guide Book, our top-recommended source for anyone with food allergies. You'll learn what your food triggers might be, how to avoid them, easy-to-use alternatives, and even great-tasting allergen-free recipes. This is THE essential guide to help you navigate through the murky world of food allergies, while providing excellent alternatives so you can still enjoy the meals you love.

Remember that although living with a food allergy can be a challenge, it is something that you can learn to manage. The Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Network's Food Allergy News has some excellent tips to get you started:

  • When eating away from home don't eat "high risk" foods including desserts, sauces, pastry-covered dishes, and fried foods.

  • Prepare allergen-free dishes before preparing foods containing allergens. Cover them, and keep them separate from the cooking area.

  • Bring a "safe" dish with you when visiting a friend or a relative; he or she will appreciate it, and you'll rest easier, too.

  • Ask about ingredients and cooking methods used whether you are in a restaurant, at a friend's home, or about to serve a dish someone brought to your home.

  • Don't forget that egg substitutes may contain egg whites; egg replacers do not.

  • Stock up on key ingredients that are safe for you to eat.

  • To avoid cross-contamination, use parchment paper as a liner for your countertops when mixing or blending foods that may cause a reaction. Throw the paper away when you are finished.

Further, if you have a severe food allergy, you may want to consider always carrying a self-injectable epinephrine (often called an Epipen) in case of emergency anaphylaxis.

Recommended Reading

The Four Most Dangerous Allergies and How to Prevent Them

50% of U.S. Population Has Allergies, Most Don't Realize It & Suffer Unnecessarily ... Do You?


The Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Network

Food Allergy News, October-November 2001

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