Imagine what it would be like if eating a peanut butter sandwich or some shrimp left you vomiting or gasping for breath. How about drinking a tall glass of milk and becoming overcome with very itchy hives on your body? For some people with food allergies, this is a reality.
A flood allergy is an abnormal response to food triggered by the immune system. It is not the bloating or gas that some people get from certain foods; that is food intolerance. Currently, about 36 million people in the United States have a true food allergy. Almost six million of those people are under eighteen. Experts predict that number will rise. Those more likely to develop food allergies come from families in which allergies such as hay fever, asthma, or eczema are common.
It is critical for people who have food allergies to identify them and to avoid foods that cause allergic reactions. Some foods can cause severe illness. In some cases, a reaction can constrict airways in the lungs. It can severely lower blood pressure and cause suffocation by the swelling of the tongue or throat. An average of at least six Americans die each year from severe allergic reactions to food, but over 200,000 require emergency care.
The timing and location of an allergic reaction to food is affected by digestion. An allergic person may first experience a severe itching of the tongue or “tingling lips.” Vomiting, cramps, or diarrhea may follow. Later, as the allergens enter the bloodstream and travel through the body, there may be a drop in blood pressure, hives, or eczema. The onset of these symptoms may vary from a few minutes to an hour or two after the food is eaten.
Food allergy patterns in adults differ somewhat from those in children. The most common foods to cause allergies in adults are shrimp, lobster, crab, and other shellfish; peanuts; walnuts and other tree nuts; fish; and eggs.
In children, eggs, milk, peanuts, soy, and wheat are the main culprits. Children typically outgrow their allergies to milk, eggs, soy, and wheat. Allergies to peanuts, tree nuts, fish, and shrimp usually are not outgrown. Adults usually do not lose their allergies.
The best way to treat food allergies is to avoid the foods that trigger reactions. Those with severe food allergies are advised to wear medical alert bracelets or necklaces.