Millions of US citizens have food allergic reactions every year. They occur when your immune system triggers abnormal responses to certain foods. Some of the main food allergies include peanuts, cow milk, eggs, shellfish, and soybeans.
Some of these reactions have minor symptoms and some major symptoms. Symptoms vary from person to person and depending on the food causing the allergy, and they can range from sneezing, nasal congestion, rashes, and ear infection.
Anaphylaxis is the most severe symptom, which impairs your breathing and sends your body into shock. It is life-threatening and results in approximately 150 deaths yearly in the US.
While there is currently no standard cure for food allergies, the best way is to avoid certain foods. Some of the measures you can take include:
Read food labels
When buying food, it’s obvious to look at labels to identify the ingredients in the foods you buy. The 2004 Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act (FALCPA) states that manufacturers list the common foods that cause food allergies on their labels as major food allergens.
They may list those ingredients with their name, like milk, or following an ingredient name, like flour (wheat).
In addition to looking at the ingredients, you should also look for statements like ‘may contain’ or ‘processed in a facility that also makes….’ While these statements are voluntary for manufacturers to add, they help you avoid any risk of an allergic reaction.
Avoid cross-reactivity and cross-contact
Cross-contact happens when you unintentionally transfer an allergen to food without the allergen directly or indirectly. It might happen, for example, by using a knife previously used to spread peanut butter to spread jam.
Some tips to avoid cross-contact include:
- Remove all the foods you are allergic to from your pantry, freezer, or refrigerator
- Clean your cooking apparatus, including stovetop, utensils, and oven, with soap and water
- Have spate food preparation or storage areas if you share your house with someone
- If you are cooking a lot of food, cook your safe foods first
- Never share food
- Cover allergy-safe foods
- If you are eating out, inform the restaurant personnel about your food allergies
Cross-reactivity happens when different foods have the same proteins, causing your body to treat them as one. While some people have isolated food allergies, some are allergic to a particular group like fatty fish or finned fish, meaning they have to avoid all food from that group.
Try an oral food challenge or skin test to determine whether you are allergic to different foods in the same group.
Recognize your symptoms
Identifying your allergy symptoms early could be the key to saving your life or preventing it from escalating, especially anaphylaxis, which can be hard to identify. Some signs to look out for include symptoms involving your soft mucosal nose lining, skin, gastrointestinal tract, mouth, impaired breathing, abdominal cramps, or a drop in blood pressure that causes weakness or fainting.
Other food allergies symptoms can affect your body parts in the following ways:
- Eyes- Redness, tears, itching, or swelling
- Skin- Redness, hives, itching, rash, or red bumps
- Lower respiratory- Wheezing, chest tightness, cough, or shortness of breath
- Upper respiratory- Sneezing, runny nose, hoarseness, nasal congestion, itching, or dry cough
- Gastrointestinal- Reflux, vomiting, nausea, diarrhea, bloody stool, or abdominal pain
- Mouth- Swelling of the palate, tongue, or lips
- Cardiovascular- Dizziness, fainting, slow or rapid heartbeat, or low blood pressure
Prepare for emergency action
If you suffer from a life-threatening food allergies, ensure everybody around you knows what to do if you get an allergic reaction. The American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology has an anaphylaxis emergency action plan that you can download.