Food Allergies

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Understanding Food
Allergies & Intolerances
May 2014
A food allergy is a medical condition in which the body’s immune system targets a food protein as a
threat and produces large amounts of an antibody to fight it. This antibody releases chemicals like
histamine, which trigger the symptoms of an allergic reaction.
Food allergies affect an estimated 15 million Americans, and are most common in children. Despite
the vast number of people with a food allergy, there are just a few foods that cause the bulk of the
reactions (see sidebar.)
Common Food Allergy Symptoms:
Wheezing or trouble breathing
Hives, itchy skin or development of a rash
Swelling, particularly of the lips or tongue
Abdominal pain, nausea, or vomiting
Allergy vs. Intolerance
Unlike true food allergies, food intolerances do not involve the immune system (with the exception
of Celiac Disease), and cannot trigger anaphylaxis. They can, however, produce some of the same
symptoms. The most common food intolerances include:
Lactose Intolerance occurs when your small intestine does not produce enough of the
lactase enzyme, and so the body cannot properly digest lactose. Lactose is the sugar found
in dairy products, such as milk, cheese and ice cream. This intolerance is more common in
adults and is estimated to affect more than 60 percent of adults worldwide.
Celiac Disease is an adverse reaction to gluten, a protein composite found in wheat, rye,
barley, and oats. When people with Celiac Disease consume gluten, they experience an
inflammation of the small intestine caused by an immune response. This reaction may
damage the lining of the small intestine, inhibiting sufficient absorption of the nutrients in
Treating Anaphylaxis
Anaphylaxis is the most severe reaction to a food allergy, and
can be life-threatening. Anaphylaxis, or anaphylactic shock,
involves the entire body reacting negatively to an allergen, such
as those with severe peanut or shellfish allergies.
Symptoms develop rapidly, often within seconds or minutes, and
include swelling of the eyes, face, or throat, difficulty breathing,
slurred speech, unconsciousness, rapid pulse, and abnormally
blue or pale skin.
Sources: Food Allergy Research and Education:,
Genetics Home Reference:
The Usual
The following eight foods
are responsible for 90
percent of all food allergies:
Tree nuts
If someone around you develops anaphylaxis, follow these four steps
from the National Institute of Health:
1. Call 911.
2. Check the ABCs: airway, breathing, circulation. Begin rescue
breathing and CPR if necessary.
3. Check for emergency allergy medicine and administer. DO NOT
give oral medication if the person is having difficulty breathing.
4. Calm the person. Lay him flat and raise the feet 12”. Cover with a
blanket to help prevent shock. Do NOT use a pillow, this can block
the airway.