Food allergies used to be a very uncommon thing. Unfortunately, now they are becoming less and less uncommon. In fact, the rapid rate at which the percentage of people in the world with food allergies is growing is astonishing... and slightly horrifying. Did you know that there are more than 200,000 visits to the emergency room per year because of food allergies? Wow.
If you are not one of the roughly 15 million Americans with a food allergy in the country, then maybe this article doesn't affect you so much. Or, does it? With the large number of people with food allergies in the country, the odds of you knowing someone with a food allergy are higher than you may think. That leads me to my next point- how much about food allergies do you think you know? How much about food allergies do you actually know? Even people with food allergies don't have all the answers, but maybe this article can bring a few important things to light.
What's Actually Happening
Biologically, when a person has a food allergy, that person's immune system is recognizing a certain protein present in the food as harmful. Different proteins are present in different foods, so a person's reaction to one food versus another is quite understandable.
However, the problem many medical researchers and scientists now face is: why? Clearly something is wrong with biology of humans with food allergies- but how come it affects so many people so similarly? Food allergies aren't necessarily genetic, so there are still some unanswered questions about why certain people have this condition.
Types of Food Allergies
People can be allergic to all different sorts of foods. The most common food allergies include:
tree nuts (which are different than peanuts, and include nuts such as cashews, walnuts, almonds, pistachios, pecans, etc.)
fish (halibut, haddock, cod, etc.)
shellfish (shrimp, lobster, etc.)
These eight ingredients account for approximately 90% of all food allergies. But other allergies exist as well. Some other food allergies include red dye (such as Starburst, Skittles, and other candies) as well as the food allergy to sesame seeds, which seems to be coming more and more common across the globe.
Symptoms can range far and wide. Some are as simple (although I use 'simple', please do not think that food allergies with less severe life-altering reactions are not as bad; these reactions are still dangerous and pose an issue to the person with the food allergy) and some are deadly. Some common symptoms include:
rashes, eczema, and redness of the skin
itchy mouth and eyes
nausea and possible vomiting
stomach and digestive pain
drop in blood pressure (which can lead to fainting)
swelling of the throat
shortness of breath
severe chest pains
Reaction symptoms are certainly not limited to that list. Any sort of discomfort or irregular change in homeostasis might be a reaction to a food allergy.
One severe type of reaction is known as anaphylaxis, which requires immediate medical treatment. People who have had milder reactions to allergens before can still experience anaphylaxis after consuming the same allergen. Anaphylaxis is most commonly marked by the symptoms:
reduced blood pressure and fainting
skin rashes and swollen lips
nausea, vomiting, and other forms of gastrointestinal upset
If a person experiences one of these reactions to a food allergen, immediate action is required and after administration of medication that person MUST visit the emergency room, regardless of whether symptoms have stopped or not.
Different reactions require different medications. With anaphylaxis, the use of an epi-pen is required. Epi-pens contain epinephrine, a natural hormone in the body, and it helps assist blood circulation in the body. For lesser reactions, I typically take some form of Benedryl or Tylenol. Make sure you consult your doctor about the most appropriate method for a food allergy reaction.
If you have a food allergy and you are eating out, be sure to let the chef know that you have a food allergy so the restaurant can do the best they can to accommodate your needs.
If you are serving someone with a food allergy, be aware of cross contamination. Sure, those brownies may not have peanuts or tree nuts in them, but the knife you used to cut the butter for the batter also sliced a classic PB&J sandwich some minutes before.
Read the ingredients on all items in supermarket. Allergens should be bolded and/or listed at the bottom. If something is shared on the same equipment, it is advised that the person with the allergy does not eat it.
If you are unsure of the ingredients (such as something from a bakery); do not eat said bakery item.
Food allergies are still a mystery, and hopefully the mystery will be unraveled as time progresses. But for now, we can all do a small part in keeping our friends with food allergies healthy and alive. If you have any other safety questions, or are interested in a free quote for any type of insurance, be sure to let us know by clicking the buttons below!