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Food allergies can happen at any age

September 25, 2017

Here’s how to protect yourself

First, the bad news: An allergy or intolerance to a particular food can develop at any point during your life.

The good news is an allergist often can confirm a food allergy by conducting a simple skin or blood test, says Sarah Peterson, M.D., a Northwest Community Healthcare (NCH) Medical Group Allergist and Immunologist in Buffalo Grove.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, food allergies are a growing food safety issue with one in 13 children and one in 25 adults having a food allergy. According to the American Academy of Allergy Asthma & Immunology (AAAAI), the most common food allergens are: milk, eggs, peanuts, wheat, soy, fish, shellfish and tree nuts.

Is it an allergy or sensitivity?

A food sensitivity or intolerance is very different from an allergy, says Dr. Peterson. “It can be dose dependent, so it may not happen on every subsequent exposure to the food,” she says. “Symptoms vary but tend to be more in line with stomach upset, bloating, abdominal cramping, change in stool and can include headache or fatigue. Elimination diets are used to determine if a specific food is the cause for those symptoms.”

Managing a mild to moderate food allergy

In people with food allergies, the immune system mistakenly responds to food as if it were harmful. Treatment involves strictly avoiding the food in question.

In cases of accidental exposure, your allergist can identify what treatments are appropriate. “Factors, including additional medical conditions you have such as asthma or heart disease, and also how severe the symptoms are at the time of accidental exposure will determine what treatment plan should be followed in your case,” says Dr. Peterson.

Severe allergies can be fatal

In severe cases, allergies can cause anaphylaxis, a rapid and severe allergic reaction that occurs when the body releases histamine and other substances. The AAAAI states that anaphylaxis symptoms may include:

  • Red rash, with hives/welts, that is usually itchy
  • Swollen throat or swollen areas of the body
  • Wheezing
  • Passing out
  • Chest tightness
  • Trouble breathing, cough
  • Hoarse voice
  • Trouble swallowing
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Stomach cramping
  • Pale or red color to the face and body
  • Feeling of impending doom

For those diagnosed with a severe food allergy, experiencing anaphylaxis symptoms, call 911, and, if the person has emergency allergy medicine, help them administer it.

If you or your loved ones are experiencing allergy symptoms, call 847-725-8401 to schedule an appointment with an NCH allergist. NCH offers allergy diagnosis and treatment for both children and adults.