Most food allergies, says Fahmida Jafri, Dietician at GMC Hospital develop early in life while many are actually outgrown. “Food allergies occur when your body’s immune system reacts to a substance in a food, usually a protein that your body sees as harmful,” she says and this in turn, sets off a chain reaction within your body. Symptoms can occur within minutes and Jafri says these can range from mild–-such as a runny nose–to severe and even life-threatening. Not surprisingly, food allergies, she says, are highest in infants and toddlers.
“The most common food allergies in children are cow’s milk, eggs, soy, peanuts, wheat, fish, shellfish and tree nuts,” she says, while many children outgrow food allergies. “More than 170 foods are known to cause food allergies and these account for 90 percent of all food-allergic reactions. “Essentially people with food allergies or intolerances need to avoid foods that make them sick however navigating menu items and dishes, where many foods include a combination of ingredients, can be difficult,” she states as allergy-triggering foods may be prepared on the same counters, or with the same utensils as non-allergy causing ingredients. Through cross-contact, a food allergen can creep into what may otherwise be a safe food.
Peanut allergy symptoms, points out Jafri, can range from a minor irritation to a life-threatening reaction known as anaphylaxis. “For some people with peanut allergy, even tiny amounts of peanuts can cause a serious reaction and an allergic response to peanuts usually occurs within minutes after exposure,” she says and symptoms range from mild to severe. In fact, peanut allergy is the most common cause of food-induced anaphylaxis, a medical emergency that requires treatment with an epinephrine injector (EpiPen, Twinject) and a trip to the emergency room. “Anaphylaxis signs include constriction of airways, swelling of your throat that makes it difficult to breathe, severe drop in blood pressure, rapid pulse and/or dizziness, lightheadedness or loss of consciousness,” she says. “Exposure to peanuts can occur by direct contact, cross-contact, and inhalation and/or if family members have allergies,” says Jafri and the risk for peanut allergy increases if other allergies, especially other types of food allergies, are common in your family.
Eggs, says Jafri, are one of the most common allergy-causing foods in children. “Egg allergy symptoms usually occur a few minutes to a few hours after eating eggs or foods containing eggs,” she says and symptoms range from mild to severe and can include skin rashes, hives, nasal inflammation, and vomiting or other digestive problems. “While egg allergy can occur as early as infancy, most children outgrow their egg allergy before adolescence,” says Jafri however in some cases, it continues into adulthood.
A milk allergy is an abnormal response by the body’s immune system to milk and products containing milk, explains Jafri and while cow’s milk is the usual cause of milk allergy, milk from sheep, goats and buffalo may also cause a reaction. “Milk allergy is one of the most common food allergies in children,” she says and often occurs within minutes to hours after consuming milk. “The symptoms range from mild to severe and can include wheezing, vomiting, hives and digestive problems,” she explains and rarely, milk allergy can cause anaphylaxis. According to Jafri, avoidance is the primary treatment for milk allergy and fortunately, most children outgrow a milk allergy by age 3.
Among children, shellfish allergy is more common in boys, says Jafri and sometimes, a shellfish allergy is only to certain kinds of shellfish, or you may have an allergy to all shellfish. “Shellfish include marine animals with shells, such as shrimp, crab, and lobster, as well as octopus and squid,” she says. “Shellfish allergy can cause mild symptoms, such as hives or nasal congestion, or more-severe and even life-threatening symptoms and for some people, even a tiny amount of shellfish can cause anaphylaxis.”
Soy, a product of soybeans, is a common food that can cause allergies and in many cases, soy allergy starts with a reaction to a soy-based infant formula, says Jafri. “Although most children eventually outgrow a soy allergy, soy allergy may persist into adulthood,” she says. “Symptoms usually develop within a few minutes to hours after eating a food containing soy.” Certain factors can increase your chances of developing a soy allergy and these include familial tendency, age as soy allergy is most common in children, especially toddlers and infants. “Also individuals who are allergic to wheat, beans (legumes), milk or other foods can have an allergic reaction to soy,” tells Jafri.
Wheat allergy, tells Jafri, is one of the more common food allergies in children but children usually outgrow wheat allergy between ages 3 and 5. “Wheat can be found in many foods, including some you might never suspect, such as breads, cakes, breakfast cereals, pasta, crackers, soy sauce and condiments, such as ketchup,” she says, adding, “A wheat allergy generates an allergy-causing
antibody to proteins found in wheat.” But, one particular protein in wheat — gluten — causes an abnormal immune system reaction in the small intestines of people with celiac disease. She advises that avoiding wheat is the primary treatment for wheat allergy and if you have a wheat allergy, you may also be allergic to other grains such as barley, oat, or rye
Allergies versus Intolerance
In some cases, what may appear to be a food allergy may actually be food intolerance and both are different. Unlike a true food allergy, Jafri says that food intolerance doesn’t involve the immune system. “With a true food allergy, even tiny amounts of the food can cause a severe reaction while in most cases, someone who has food intolerance can eat small amounts of the food with only mild symptoms, such as indigestion or heartburn,” she says and while symptoms of intolerance may be unpleasant–including abdominal cramping or diarrhea–they are not life-threatening.