Food Allergy

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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.

Introduction to food allergies

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 3/24/2014

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Food Allergy - Symptoms Question: What are the symptoms of your food allergy?
Food Allergy - Allergy Shots Question: Please discuss your experience with allergy shots in preventing or decreasing food allergies.
Food Allergy - Common Foods Question: What foods are you allergic to? Please share what happens when you eat the food and how you avoid it.
Food Allergy - Diagnosis Question: What types of tests and exams led to a food allergy diagnosis?
Food Allergy - Treatment Question: Do you receive medical treatment for your food allergy or do you avoid the food? Please discuss your experience.
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Food Allergy Myths

Medical Author: Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD
Medical Editor: Jay W. Marks, MD

Food allergies are often misunderstood, even though societal recognition of, and education about, the condition is increasing. See if you have heard ? or believed ? any of the following myths about food allergies:

  1. "You're "allergic" to any food that gives you problems." This statement is false, since there are several problems that can arise after eating specific foods, the majority of which are unrelated to allergy. True allergies to foods are immunologic reactions involving the class of immunoglobulins (proteinsthat assist in the body's immune response) known as immunoglobulin(Ig) E. 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. The prevalence of food allergy in the population is much lower than the prevalence of adverse reactions to foods. It is estimated that true food allergies occur in 2-5% of the population.

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