Food Allergies What Are They

A true food allergy, sometimes called food hypersensitivity, causes the body's immune system to react even though the person isn't sick. The body reacts to a usually harmless food substance, thinking it's harmful. An allergen, usually a protein in the troublesome food, sets off a chain of immune system reactions. When an allergy-prone person eats a food that causes an allergic reaction, his or her body scrambles to protect itself by making immunoglubulin E (IgE) antibodies. These antibodies trigger the release of body chemicals such as histamine. In turn, these body chemicals cause uncomfortable symptoms associated with allergies, such as a runny nose, itchy skin, nausea, even a rapid heartbeat, or in severe cases, anaphylaxis.

Something You Ate?

It's lunchtime. You make your toddler his or her first peanut butter and jelly sandwich. An hour later you notice the child has broken out with an itchy rash. You've heard that peanuts can be allergenic. Is your child allergic to the peanut butter in the sandwich? Maybe . . . or maybe not! In any case, a call to the child's doctor is certainly in order.

Any food can cause an allergic reaction in a sus ceptible person. However, some foods are more likely than others to set off a reaction. Milk, eggs, wheat, and soy, as well as fish, crustacea (especially shrimp), peanuts, and tree nuts (such as walnuts), are the most common foods with allergens, causing 90 percent of allergic reactions. Raw soybeans and soy sprouts tend to be more allergenic than tofu, tempeh, and miso. An allergy to egg, milk, soy, or wheat often is outgrown. A peanut allergy usually lasts for life.

Symptoms? Something to Sneeze About

What are the symptoms of a food allergy? Different people react to the same allergen in different ways. Even if a food contains a common allergen, you can't predict whether you may have an allergic reaction. Symptoms may appear within seconds or up to several hours after eating the food that triggers the reaction. In exceptionally sensitive people, just the touch or the smell of the food can provoke a reaction!

What's the Sign?

The most common symptoms include swelling, sneezing, and nausea. Most symptoms affect the skin, respiratory system, stomach, or intestines:

Skin reactions:

• Swelling of the lips, tongue, and face

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