A food allergy is a reaction of the body's immune system to a certain type of food. Depending on the type of food allergy, the amount of trigger food eaten and the severity of the immune system's reaction, food allergies can cause serious symptoms and can even be fatal.
Food Allergies or Food Intolerance?Many people think that they have a food allergy when in reality all they are suffering from is food intolerance. The reason that is it so important to differentiate between the two conditions is that while food intolerances can cause unpleasant symptoms, food allergies can cause death.
A food intolerance is characterized by the occurrence of abdominal pain, nausea, diarrhoea, cramping, and upset stomach after eating a food item that doesn't agree with the digestive system. For example, after eating foods that are high in fat or sugar content many people experience abdominal symptoms and assume that they are allergic to these types of foods. A food intolerance is not a food allergy because the symptoms are milder, less life threatening, and always go away without the aid of medical treatment.
A food allergy is characterised by an immune system reaction to the ingestion of certain foods. In this condition the body's immune system can mistake the food for an unwanted foreign substance and attack the particles in order to prevent infection or illness.
The Causes of Food AllergiesFood allergies trigger an immune system response in the body, but what causes the allergy in the first place? Certain foods contain proteins that resist digestion by the body. When these foods are eaten, the undigested proteins are allowed to cross the gastrointestinal lining and enter the blood stream. Here the proteins are attacked by the immune system. The immune system produces immunoglobin E (IgE) antibodies in defence against certain foods. These antibodies latch onto mast cells in the body and cause different reactions, such as inflammation, in order to destroy the unwanted proteins.
The Symptoms of Food AllergiesDepending on the location of the immune system attack, the symptoms of a food allergy can vary in type and severity. When a trigger food is first consumed the symptoms are often mild and include an itching sensation in the mouth and mild difficulty with breathing or swallowing. As the trigger food passes through the digestive system other symptoms can develop such as abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting and diarrhoea.
Once the trigger proteins are passed into the blood stream other symptoms can occur. If the proteins travel to the skin an individual can suffer from an outbreak of hives or eczema. If the proteins enter the lungs an asthma attack can be triggered. Proteins in blood vessels can restrict blood flow and lead to weakness and light-headedness.
In severe cases of allergic reactions to trigger foods medical attention will be needed to stop the reaction before breathing is disrupted and death occurs.
Common Foods that Trigger Food AllergiesSince certain foods can be especially dangerous when consumed by individuals with food allergies it is important to recognize the most common food allergy triggers. For adults the foods that are more likely to trigger an allergic reaction include peanuts, walnuts, shellfish (such as crab, lobster, and shrimp), and eggs. Children are more likely to be allergic to milk and fruits like strawberries and tomatoes.
If you suspect you may have a food allergy you need to make an appointment with your doctor examine your symptoms. In people with severe food allergies it only takes an extremely small portion of the trigger food to create a very serious reaction.