Food allergies must be taken seriously, as even though most allergic reactions are often mild, for some people they can be very serious or even life threatening. Allergic reactions happen when your body becomes hypersensitive to otherwise harmless food, indentifies it as a threat and then over reacts to what you have just eaten.
What is a food allergy

  • A food allergy is a rapid response by the body’s immune system to a particular food (usually triggered by a protein in the food).
  • Anyone with a food allergy has to be very careful about what they eat.

How food allergies develop in people
An allergic reaction does not occur on the first occasion that you eat the suspect food (called an allergen). Instead what happens is that your immune system mistakenly identifies what you have just eaten as something dangerous and produces antibodies to defend against it. So on the first occasion there is no allergic reaction, however the next time you eat the food (allergen) your antibodies are primed and react by releasing chemicals and antibodies which in turn lead to the symptoms that we call an allergic reaction. Symptoms can develop as quickly as within a few seconds or minutes.

Food allergy testing

Tests can establish two things, firstly whether a person has an allergy, and secondly what type of allergy it is. This is important as if you know beforehand what you are allergic to then you can take steps to prevent a reaction fro happening. Food tests should only be taken after consultation with your doctor and must be administered by trained healthcare professionals.

Food allergy tests can

  • Establish what exactly is causing your allergy.
  • Help you to eliminate the problem ingredients form your diet.
  • Analyse your IgG antibody reactions to 100’s of different food and drink ingredients.
  • Tell you if your allergy has gone.

Before you do an allergy test

Clearly write down:

  • What the symptoms of your allergy are.
  • When the symptoms started.
  • How quickly they develop.
  • When they occur.

Types of food allergy tests;

Skin prick test
This is typically the first and most common test to be done. It’s fast, painless and the results can be known in 20 minutes. Simply put, your skin is pricked with a small amount of suspect allergen. If there is a reaction then the skin around the pricked area will become red and itchy.

IgE Blood test
A sample of blood is taken to measure the number of IgE antibodies in it. Also known as RAST, it concludes whether you have a positive or negative IgG food reaction. Not recommended or young children, pregnant women or anyone suffering from a blood borne disease.

Patch test
Basically a small amount of chemical or substance is taped to your skin for up to 48 hours to see if there is any reaction. Different allergens are suspended in aluminium wells, which in turn are placed in strips of tape, which are taped to your skin.

Food challenge / Oral food test
You will basically be given a small piece of food (in increasing amounts) and then monitored. Only one particular type of food can be tested at a time.  These tests should not be given to children, unless specifically requested by a doctor or medical specialist. These are also known as provocation tests.



People most likely to develop allergic reactions
You are more likely to develop a food allergy if you have already have existing conditions such as asthma or eczema.

You do not have to actually eat any food get an allergic reaction
For some people simply touching or even smelling a particular food can cause an adverse reaction. An individual who is allergic to fish, can react by being in a kitchen where fish is being cooked. There have also been instances of people having a severe reaction just through being kissed by someone who has previously eaten peanuts.

Facts about food allergies

  • Roughly 2% of the adult population are affected by food allergies.
  • At present it is not fully understood why certain people develop food allergies and others don’t.
  • Just a very small amount of the allergy-causing food can trigger a reaction.
  • Currently there is no cure for food allergies.
  • Occasionally as they get older some children can outgrow their food allergies.
  • Allergens are essentially proteins.

Immunoglobulin E (IgE)
The antibodies that your body releases to fight the allergen are known as immunoglobulin E (IgE).

Most common type of food allergies
Most food allergies are triggered by proteins in;

  • Milk
  • Peanuts
  • Shellfish
  • Tree nuts
  • Eggs
  • Fish
  • Soy
  • wheat

Food ingredients
If you are a food handler or chef then it’s important that you know the ingredients of your dishes just in case you need to give accurate information to customers with allergies.

Food allergies symptoms
Symptoms usually depend on how severe an allergy is and where in a person’s body the chemicals are being released. They can happen within seconds, minutes, hours or even take days to develop. Reactions can typically affect a person’s:

  • Intestines
  • Respiratory system
  • Stomach
  • Skin

Symptoms can range from a small amount of discomfort right through to life threatening emergencies that require quick medical treatment. Typical symptoms can include:

  • Anaphylaxis
  • Anaphylactic shock
  • Asthma attacks
  • Blood pressure drop
  • Breathing difficulties
  • Chest tightness
  • Cramps
  • Diarrhoea
  • Dripping nose
  • Dry throat
  • Eczema
  • Feeling of narrowing in throat
  • Feeling dizzy and lightheaded
  • Heartburn and indigestion
  • Heart rate changes
  • Hives
  • Labored breathing
  • Itchy mouth
  • Itchy throat
  • Itchy ears
  • Itchy eyes
  • Nausea
  • Red itchy skin
  • Skin irritations
  • Swelling of the face, especially near the eyes and lips
  • Swelling of the tongue and roof of the mouth
  • Swollen lips
  • Unconsciousness

Anaphylaxis can be triggered in both children and adults, but it’s more likely to affect children. It can come along suddenly and if untreated can results in a coma or death. Typical symptoms of Anaphylaxis can include;

  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Breathing difficulties
  • Feelings of apprehension
  • Lower blood pressure
  • Shock

Calling the emergency services
If you suspect someone has had a severe allergic reaction i.e. they have trouble breathing, then you should immediately call the emergency services.

Preventing allergic reactions
The only sure way to do this is to avoid eating or touching the suspect food (allergen). Other precautions you can take include:

  • Carefully checking the labels on foods.
  • Taking extra care when cooking at home or work to make sure you don’t contaminate your food with anything that you’re allergic to.
  • When at a restaurant or eating out taking time to read the menus and telling staff about your food allergy.

Managing food allergies
There are four main stages to successfully managing food allergies:

  • Identify which food are causing the allergic reaction ( A simple way to identify which foods or drinks are causing you problems is by cutting one food out of your diet at a time).
  • Do everything possible to avoid eating and touching the suspect food.
  • Recognize the symptoms of any allergic reaction that you experience.
  • Knowing what to do medically if you have an allergic reaction and being prepared for it.

Food intolerance
Food allergies should not be confused with another common reaction known as food intolerance. This happens when a person has a bad reaction to particular additives or chemical that has been added to improve the taste of food or to make it safer to eat. Food intolerance is not as serious as a food allergy as it does not involve a person’s immune system. Most food intolerances can be overcome with dietary programmes.


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