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The Food Allergy Center


Food Allergy FAQs

What Is a Food Allergy?

Our immune system—which usually fights germs and parasites—mistakenly “attacks” otherwise safe foods. This causes an allergic reaction, with symptoms ranging from mild to severe. A life-threatening allergic reaction is called anaphylaxis.

What Are the Symptoms of Food Allergies?

Symptoms of food allergies start rapidly, within minutes to one or two hours of food consumption, and can include:

•  Breathing problems: coughing, throat tightness, trouble breathing, or wheezing
•  Itchy mouth, tongue or throat
•  Low blood pressure causing paleness, dizziness or fainting
•  Nausea, vomiting or diarrhea
•  Skin symptoms, such as hives (welts), itchy rashes, and swelling of lips, tongue       or eyes


What Are the Other Types of Food Allergies or Food-Related Problems?

Food protein-induced enterocolitis syndrome is an illness seen in babies and toddlers that causes profuse vomiting, diarrhea and lethargy about two to four hours after eating certain foods.

Eosinophilic esophagitis is a disorder that causes stomach pain, poor growth, difficulty swallowing or even food getting stuck in the esophagus or food pipe.

Food intolerances are caused by the inability to properly digest some foods, resulting in stomach symptoms such as indigestion, bloating and diarrhea. The most common food intolerance is lactose intolerance, which is caused by an inability to digest the milk sugar called lactose.

In some children with eczema—an allergic skin disorder—the condition is made worse by food allergens.

How Are Food Allergies Diagnosed?

Food allergies present with typical symptoms of hives, difficulty breathing, nausea or vomiting within two hours of eating the food, often minutes after eating the food. Symptoms often happen the very first time your child eats the food. Sometimes symptoms that look like a food allergy may be caused by other types of allergies or an illness that is not a food allergy, such as following a viral infection. Some people may get hives or swelling that is not related to a specific food allergy.

Discuss your child’s symptoms with your doctor, who will evaluate your child’s medical history. Then, your doctor may perform a skin test and blood screening to measure your child’s degree of sensitivity to food allergens.
Sometimes if your child’s medical history and allergy tests do not produce a clear diagnosis, your child may need a monitored feeding procedure called a food challenge.

How Can I Prevent and Manage Food Allergies?

Parents can prevent and manage food allergies, whether the child is at home, the school cafeteria or a restaurant.

Here are some key tips:

•  Avoid foods that are labeled "may contain ..." They really may contain your child’s food allergens.
•  Avoid foods that your child is allergic to. Always read all ingredients on the nutrition label of packaged foods.
•  Discuss your child's allergies with your child's teacher and school nurse.
•  Ensure that your child’s school has epinephrine auto-injectors.
•  Familiarize yourself and all caregivers with the emergency action plan for treatment of food allergic reactions, and make sure your child’s school has a copy.
•  Learn about cross-contamination of foods and food safety when food is prepared by schools, cafeterias and restaurants.
•  Make sure your child's epinephrine auto-injectors are not expired.
•  Treat an allergic reaction right away. Always ask your doctor for an emergency action plan and an epinephrine auto-injector.

At this time, there is no curative therapy for food allergies. Desensitization through therapies such as oral immunotherapy hold some promise but are not yet widely available.

Do Food Allergies Get Better?

Food allergies have the potential to improve. The results vary by food. The vast majority of children with egg and milk allergies outgrow them. However, peanut and tree nut allergies disappear for only a small number of children.

How Can I Make an Appointment to See a Food Allergist?

Call 1-866-MED-TALK (1-866-633-8255)to schedule an appointment.

How Do I Prepare for My Child’s Appointment with an Allergist?

Please bring with you any records of previous tests that your child might have had. Anti-histamine medications like Claritin (loratadine), Allegra (fexofenadine), Zyrtec (cetirizine), Benadryl (diphenhydramine), Dimetapp (brompheniramine) and Chlor-Trimeton (chlorpheniramine) can interfere with skin prick testing. Avoid these medications before your child’s doctor visit, if possible. Certainly, if your child has symptoms of allergies or an allergic reaction, please do not hesitate to use these anti-histamine medications. If you are in doubt, our physicians will be happy to guide you.

Contact The Food Allergy Center