What Is a Food Allergy?
If spicy foods always make your nose run, or cheesy dishes give you a stomachache, there’s a good chance a food intolerance is causing the reactions. While intolerances can be frustrating and challenging, they’re not quite the same as food allergies. With an allergy, your body mistakenly thinks the harmless food you’ve ingested will make you sick, and your immune system jumps in full force to protect you. Approximately 90% of allergic reactions involve milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, fish, shellfish, wheat, or soy.
Signs of a Food Allergy
Depending on the severity of the allergy, reactions can range from mild to life-threatening. Your reaction may happen within minutes of eating the allergen, or you may not notice until hours later. Some of the milder symptoms include skin irritation or rash, sneezing, itchy mouth, diarrhea, and vomiting. Conversely, some of the more severe reactions may leave you with swollen lips, tongue, or throat, trouble breathing or swallowing, feeling lightheaded, or chest pain. At its most severe, a food allergy can cause anaphylaxis, which is a life-threatening emergency requiring immediate medical action. This is rare and is more common in individuals that have asthma in addition to their food allergy.
Managing a Food Allergy
Before you can manage a food allergy properly, it’s important to get correctly diagnosed. An allergist can perform a skin test and a blood test to confirm suspicions. From there, they can recommend appropriate management techniques. Avoidance is the first rule of thumb, but it can be more difficult than it sounds. Reading labels can help you catch any hidden ingredients you might not expect. Anyone with a food allergy should also carry two epinephrine injectors at all times, in case of a life-threatening reaction.
Food Allergies, Pregnancy, and Breastfeeding
Unless you have a specific allergy to foods like peanuts, milk, or eggs, you don’t need to avoid them during pregnancy. Contrary to popular belief, that will not prevent food allergies in children. On the same note, delaying the introduction of these foods once the baby is born won’t prevent the allergy either. Research does suggest, though, that breastfeeding may prevent or delay food allergies, and eating foods containing peanuts at an early age may actually help prevent a peanut allergy.