Food Allergy

  • Medical Author:
    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.

  • Medical Editor: William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR
    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    Dr. Shiel received a Bachelor of Science degree with honors from the University of Notre Dame. There he was involved in research in radiation biology and received the Huisking Scholarship. After graduating from St. Louis University School of Medicine, he completed his Internal Medicine residency and Rheumatology fellowship at the University of California, Irvine. He is board-certified in Internal Medicine and Rheumatology.

Food Allergy Triggers & Where They Hide

Food Allergy Triggers

It's common to have a bad reaction to foods we eat on occasion, such as gas from eating beans or headaches from drinking wine. If you're lactose intolerant you may experience diarrhea when you consume dairy. These are all examples of food sensitivities or intolerances, which are different from allergies in that they are not immune system reactions. With a food allergy. The immune system reacts to specific foods which can result in symptoms that range from mild skin rashes or itching, to anaphylaxis, a serious reaction that can be fatal.

Quick GuideAllergy List: Watch Out for the Most Common Food Allergies

Allergy List: Watch Out for the Most Common Food Allergies

Food allergy facts

  • Food allergy is not common but can be serious.
  • Food allergy differs from food intolerance, which is far more common.
  • The more frequent types of food allergies in adults differ from those in children.
  • Children can outgrow their food allergies, but adults usually do not.
  • The diagnosis of food allergy is made with a detailed history, the patient's diet diary, or an elimination diet.
  • Food allergy is treated primarily by dietary avoidance.

What is a food allergy?

Either food allergy or food intolerance affects nearly everyone at some point. When people have an unpleasant reaction to something they ate, they often think that they have an allergy to the food. Actually, however, only about 3% of adults and 6%-8% of children have clinically proven true allergic reactions to food.

This difference between the prevalence of clinically proven food allergy and the public's perception of the problem is due primarily to misinterpreting food intolerance or other adverse reactions to food as food allergy. A true food allergy is an abnormal response to food that is triggered by a specific reaction in the immune system and expressed by certain, often characteristic, symptoms. Other kinds of reactions to foods that are not food allergies include food intolerances (such as lactose or milk intolerance), food poisoning, and toxic reactions. Food intolerance also is an abnormal response to food, and its symptoms can resemble those of food allergy. Food intolerance, however, is far more prevalent, occurs in a variety of diseases, and is triggered by several different mechanisms that are distinct from the immunological reaction responsible for food allergy.

People who have food allergies must identify and prevent them because, although usually mild and not severe, these reactions can cause devastating illness and, in rare instances, can be fatal.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 10/8/2015

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