Food allergies are an abnormal response to a food or substance triggered by the body's immune system. The body's natural defensive immune system perceives the food, usually a protein, as an intruder and sends chemicals to attack it. As per the Food Allergy Research and Education (FARE), eight foods or food groups are primarily responsible for 90 % of all food allergies. These are cow's milk, eggs, peanuts, fish, shellfish, tree nuts (such as cashews or walnuts), wheat, and soya. The substance that causes an allergic reaction to foods or drinks is called an 'allergen'.
Allergies may be inherited or run in families. If an older child has a particular allergy, it needs to be monitored in younger children. Sometimes allergies fade away as children grow older. Most allergies do not have a cure and treatment is only aimed at easing the symptoms caused by the allergic reaction.
Symptoms of food allergies range from mild to severe. They may occur suddenly or develop over several hours after consuming the food
Mild to moderate symptoms:
• Swelling of face, lips, and/or eyes
• Hives or welts on the skin
• Abdominal pain, vomiting
Severe allergic reactions (anaphylaxis) can be fatal and must be treated immediately:
• Difficult or noisy breathing
• Swelling of the tongue
• Swelling/tightness in the throat
• Difficulty talking and/or hoarse voice
• Wheeze or persistent cough
• Persistent dizziness and/or collapse
Sometimes adverse reactions to food may not be an allergy, but food intolerance, toxic reaction, food poisoning or aversion, or irritation from skin contact with food. Often these are mistaken for food allergies.
Preventing and Treating Food Allergies
• Avoid or remove the allergenic foods from the diet.
• Read the list of ingredients on the label of each prepared food before buying it. Learn the alternative names of allergic foods too.
• Be alert while eating out in restaurants or at friends' homes,
• Note that even health or beauty products and cosmetics may contain the food one is allergic to. Maintaining cleanliness can help remove some allergens from the environment.
• Inform friends, colleagues, and teachers about your food allergies so you don't accidentally eat the wrong food.
• Educate children about their allergies and what foods to avoid.