Food allergies have become increasingly prevalent in recent years, affecting millions worldwide. Food allergy affects an estimated 8% of children under age five and up to 4% of adults. Although there is no cure, certain children may naturally outgrow their food allergies as they mature.
A food allergy is an abnormal immune response to a specific protein, resulting in various symptoms ranging from mild to life-threatening. Even a minuscule quantity of the allergen-containing food can induce symptoms like digestive issues, hives, or swelling in the airways. Food allergy is different from food intolerance, which can cause digestive and skin symptoms but is rarely life-threatening.

What is a Food Allergy?

A food allergy is an adverse immune response to a particular protein. When someone with a food allergy consumes an allergenic food, their immune system mistakenly identifies the protein as harmful and triggers an immune response. This immune response leads to the release of chemicals that cause various symptoms.

Common Food Allergens

Although any food has the potential to cause an allergic reaction, certain foods are more frequently linked to food allergies. These major allergens are

  • Milk
  • Eggs
  • Peanuts
  • Tree nuts (such as almonds, walnuts, and cashews)
  • Soy
  • Wheat
  • Fish
  • Shellfish (such as shrimp, crab, and lobster)
  • Sesame this is present in several dishes like hummus

It’s important to note that food allergies can develop to any food, so individuals may have allergies to foods not on this list.

Food Allergies Symptoms

Food Allergies Symptoms

Food allergy symptoms can range from mild to severe and vary from person to person. Common symptoms include

  • Skin reactions: Itching, hives, eczema, or swelling of the lips, face, tongue, or throat resulting in difficulty breathing or talking.
  • Gastrointestinal symptoms: Nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, or abdominal cramps.
  • Respiratory symptoms: Sneezing, a runny or congested nose, coughing, wheezing, or experiencing shortness of breath.
  • Cardiovascular symptoms: Rapid heartbeat, drop in blood pressure, or fainting (in severe cases).
  • Anaphylaxis: A severe, life-threatening allergic reaction that can involve multiple systems and cause difficulty breathing, a drop in blood pressure, and loss of consciousness.

Most food-related symptoms occur within two hours of ingestion; often, they start within minutes. In uncommon instances, the reaction might be postponed by four to six hours or even more. Delayed reactions are typically seen in children who develop eczema as a food allergy symptom.

Causes of Food Allergies

The exact cause of food allergies is not fully understood, but several factors may contribute to their development.

  • Genetics: A family history of allergies increases the likelihood of developing food allergies due to genetic factors.
  • Immune system: An overactive immune system may increase the risk of food allergies.
  • Early exposure: Some research suggests that delaying the introduction of certain allergenic foods to infants may increase the likelihood of allergies.
  • Environmental factors: Pollution, dietary changes, and other environmental factors may play a role in the rising prevalence of food allergies.

Managing Food Allergies

Currently, there is no cure for food allergies, and the best way to manage them is through avoidance and preparedness

  • Allergen identification: Carefully read food labels and ask about ingredients when dining out. Stay vigilant for concealed allergens present in processed foods.
  • Create an allergy action plan: Work with your healthcare provider to develop a personalized action plan for managing allergic reactions, including carrying epinephrine (EpiPen) if necessary.
  • Educate yourself and others: Inform family members, friends, and caregivers about your food allergies and how to respond in an emergency.
  • Be cautious when dining out: Inform restaurant staff about your allergies and inquire about food preparation practices. Be extra careful when eating in restaurants. Waiters, and occasionally kitchen staff, may not possess information about the ingredients of every dish listed on the menu. Depending on your sensitivity, even walking into a kitchen or a restaurant can cause an allergic reaction.
  • Stay informed: Keep up with the latest research and treatment options for food allergies.

Experiencing symptoms after consuming certain foods doesn’t necessarily mean having a food allergy or requiring complete avoidance. For example, some individuals may have an itchy mouth and throat after eating raw or uncooked fruits or vegetables, indicating oral allergy syndrome. The response is to pollen, not the food itself. The immune system identifies pollen and comparable proteins in the food, prompting an allergic reaction. Heating the food destroys the allergen, allowing it to be consumed without issues.


Food allergies can be a challenging and sometimes life-threatening condition. Still, with proper management and awareness, individuals with food allergies can lead healthy and fulfilling lives. Suppose you suspect you have a food allergy or have been diagnosed with one. In that case, it’s crucial to work closely with a healthcare provider to develop a personalized management plan and stay vigilant about avoiding allergenic foods. Education and awareness are key to minimizing the risks associated with food allergies.