Food allergy is a form of response that is generated from the immune system of the human body. Food allergies generally occur when the immune system mistakes food to be harmful substances, and therefore, it creates antibodies. Antibodies are created by the immune system to help it ward off bacteria, viruses and other microorganisms. These antibodies operate like a defense system and try to fight off the food. Usually, most allergies that occur in the human body are triggered by foods which contain protein. Some foods that are responsible for triggering allergic reactions in the body are:
- Seafood (e.g. crabs, shrimps and lobsters)
- Milk (especially cow’s milk)
- Tree nuts (e.g. pecans, cashews, hazelnuts, pistachios,walnuts and almonds)
Food allergies can be caused by the intake of even a tiny amount of any of these allergy-triggering ingredients in people who are prone to such allergic reactions. According to statistics, food allergy is seen in about 4 percent of adults and in about 6 to 8 percent of children aged under 3. These figures are very small compared to the huge number of people who think they are allergic to certain kinds of food. When people experience an abnormal reaction to food they have eaten, they often think they are allergic to that particular food. However, there may be other possibilities which may cause a momentary intolerance to particular kinds of food, and thus, it should not be mistaken for food allergy.
When people eat food containing ingredients which they are allergic to, the immune system produces antibodies which, in turn causes mast cells (a cell that is contained by tissues in all parts of the body) to discharge certain chemicals into the blood. One of the released chemicals is histamine, and it is responsible for causing the various symptoms of the anomaly. The symptoms caused by histamine depend largely on the tissues it has been released to. Some of the symptoms experienced include:
- A runny nose
- Itchy rashes called hives or eczema
- Tingling sensation in the mouth and lips
- Chest pain
- Stomach pain
- Breathing difficulties
- Swells in the throat resulting in a hoarse voice
- Itchy or red eyes
The severity of these symptoms varies from person to person. Some experience only a mild reaction, while others could be lead to a serious medical condition called anaphylaxis: a condition where all the symptoms of food allergy occur simultaneously.
There is no medical treatment for food allergy. Allergic reactions to foods often decline in many children as they grow into adults. However, in some adults, they still persist. The only way to treat food allergy is to prevent it. This is done by not eating the particular food a person is allergic to. Food allergies are generally hereditary. Some people may be allergic since birth while others may deikdvelop them as they grow older. The best a person can do to prevent these allergies is to consult a doctor who will conduct tests to determine the exact causes of allergy. The doctor or a dietician will then suggest replacements for the allergy-causing food into the person’s diet. Although most mild allergies can be treated by antihistamines, it is important to remember that all medications must be taken only after consultation with a doctor.