Published November 20, 2014
Over 160 foods can cause allergic reactions, but the majority are caused by only a handful of food types. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration identifies the eight foods that account for over 90 percent of allergic reactions: milk, egg, peanut, tree nuts, fish, shellfish, soy, and wheat. Most individuals will grow out of many allergies, such as those to milk and wheat. However, some allergies can continue for life and produce extremely serious reactions.
Unfortunately, there is no cure for food allergies, so the best method of dealing with them is to simply avoid allergens and recognize and treat symptoms early on. Here is a guide on how best to manage some of the most common food allergies:
Cow’s milk is the most common allergy among children, yet nearly 80 percent of individuals will have grown out of it by age 6. Unlike lactose intolerance, which is an enzyme deficiency, a milk allergy is simply a response to milk proteins. An allergic reaction can occur minutes to hours after consuming milk, producing symptoms such as vomiting, hives and, in rare cases, anaphylaxis – a potentially life threatening reaction. Avoidance is the key method of treatment for a milk allergy.
An allergic reaction to peanuts occurs when your body mistakenly identifies the food as a harmful substance, sending your immune system into overdrive. The resulting reaction can produce severe, even life-threatening effects, including higher rates of anaphylactic reactions than milk, eggs or wheat. Managing a peanut allergy can be tricky due to the food’s surreptitious nature. Nut traces or oil can be found in many unlikely foods, so it’s crucial to remain vigilant about checking food safety labels. Allergy attacks tend to become more serious over time, so it’s important to receive medical attention even for minor reactions.
An allergy to shellfish is the most common form of allergy among American adults. It generally develops later in life, with about 2 percent of adults affected, compared to just 0.1 percent of children. Some individuals may only react to certain kinds of shellfish, so be sure to ask your doctor to test which are safe to eat and which are not. Medications such as antihistamines can help to relieve symptoms caused by mild reactions, but more serious cases will require immediate medical attention.
Although common among children, most egg allergies will have disappeared by age 7. Most reactions involve swelling or skin irritations, though they can sometimes prove fatal. Mildly allergic children may be able to eat food containing trace amounts of egg, such as cakes or cookies. However, these small amounts may ultimately help to perpetuate the allergy, making it more difficult to grow out of. Egg traces can appear in all manner of improbable places, from pastas and milk-based coffees to influenza vaccines.
Similar to eggs, wheat allergies are far more prevalent among children. Not to be confused with celiac disease, which is an aversion to gluten, a wheat allergy produces an allergy-causing antibody in reaction to certain proteins found in wheat. Managing a wheat allergy can be a challenging task because it features in such a broad variety of foods. Most baked goods, beer, soy sauce, pasta, breakfast cereals and condiments contain wheat, so all ingredients should be checked carefully.