Recent studies on food allergies have brought this sometimes life-threatening condition into focus.  It is now believed that 1 in every 12 kids have some sorts of allergy to food, whether that be from wheat, milk, egg, peanuts, shellfish, or one of the many other allergen-containing foods out there. 

What Is A Food Allergy?

Mixed Nuts(73167)Credit: allergy is when your immune system mistakenly identifies harmless substances in everyday foods as harmful.  Your body begins to release all sorts of chemical substances, like histamines, to battle the invader.  These substances then begin attack your body, causing symptoms as small as a stuffy nose and headaches, to something as serious as hives, seizures, and even death.

As you can see, food allergies are a serious business!

What Are the Symptoms of an Allergic Reaction?

The chemical substances that your body produces from a food allergy can bring on a slew of symptoms like:
  • Hives or itchy rash
  • Swelling
  • Chills or general weakness
  • Tightening of the chest
  • Wheezing or coughing – trouble breathing
  • Tummy issues (cramps / nausea / vomiting / diarrhea)
  • Fainting

These reactions can come over you in minutes and pass after an hour or two. 

What Causes Food Allergies?

No one is 100% sure about what causes food allergies, though there are a few hypotheses out there:
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  1. Born with it – Genetics may play a big role in allergies.  Research has shown that if someone in your family is allergic to something, you are more susceptible to having some sort of allergy.
  2. Damaged Digestive Tract – Some believe that you become more at risk of developing a food allergy if you have used and abused your digestive tract – either you've killed off the good bacteria in your belly or you have damaged our gut lining via the foods that you have eaten. 
  3. Illness / Stress – Some people have their defenses kick on after a serious illness or period of stress in their lives. 

How to Diagnose your Food Allergy:

The best way to diagnose your food allergy is to talk to your doctor.  He or she will review your medical history and run some basic blood testing to rule out other potential causes before referring you to a qualified allergist.  He can also provide you with advice and medications to help keep you healthy until you can see your allergist.

You will  want to make sure the allergist your doctor sends you to is knowledgeable about food allergies.  Many allergists are accustomed to working with environmental allergies (e.g. hay fever).  You may want to check with your insurance and see who is covered under you plan and then call the doctors to ensure that they do deal with food allergies.  The last thing you want to do is wait three months to see the allergist and find out that he doesn't know anything about a wheat allergy, right?

When you finally do visit your allergist, he or she will perform a complete food allergy workup to help not only pin down the symptoms but also the trigger foods.  This workup could include more blood tests, a skin test, and maybe even a food challenge where they have you eat your suspected trigger food while under close supervision of your doctor or his staff.

What Is The Best Way To Prevent An Allergic Reaction?

Two words: constant vigilance. 

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Read every ingredients list.  Question the waiter (or even the chef) at any restaurant.  Ask questions when you eat at friends' houses (and make sure that you forewarn them about your allergy ahead of time). 

There are websites out there that cater to food allergy suffers.  Some have lists of "safe" and "bad" foods.  Others have ingredients lists of different processed items.  And then there are others that produce cards that explain your allergy in multiple languages so you can be sure of your safety even when traveling.

Even then, there will be times when something slips past you.  That's why it's important that you be prepared for an accidental ingestion by always carrying your medication.