Nearly 15 million Americans have food allergies, including 5.9 million kids under the age of 18. These numbers continue to increase. It’s partly because more people are being diagnosed as we better recognize symptoms.
Food allergies occur when your body has an immune response to something you ingest. Allergies can begin at any age. They can even develop later in life to foods you’ve previously been able to eat without trouble. It’s also possible to outgrow an allergy as you age.
More than 170 foods have been reported to cause allergic reactions. Here are some of the most common culprits:
- Nuts, including peanuts, almonds, pecans and walnuts
- Food dye and artificial coloring
Depending on how sensitive you are to a particular food, you might start having symptoms of an allergic reaction within minutes. Common symptoms include hives, rashes, abdominal pain, nausea and vomiting. More serious symptoms include shortness of breath, difficulty swallowing and throat closing. These symptoms require immediate medical attention.
It can be difficult to tell when babies and small children are having an allergic reaction because they aren’t able to tell you about their symptoms. This is why kids younger than six months of age should not be fed solid foods. When introducing solid foods, introduce them one at a time, and wait a day or two between each new food item. There are certain foods that commonly cause allergic reactions in kids – eggs, milk, soy, shellfish and nuts – so wait to introduce these foods until your kids are able to tell you they are having a reaction.
Unfortunately, most people are unaware they are allergic to something until they have a reaction to it. Once you know you are sensitive to a food, your best option is to avoid it and keep it out of your house. It’s also a good idea to keep antihistamine medication on hand. In some cases, you may need to have an Epi-Pen available. Injections for desensitization may also be an option.
Edward-Elmhurst Health has an on-site allergist who can conduct food allergy testing as well as provide desensitization treatment options. If you have persistent symptoms that you suspect may be related to food allergies, we encourage you to make an appointment. Any new or unusual rash deserves an evaluation by your primary care provider.