Eight common foodstuffs are the most likely culprits causing allergies. Learn which foods they are and how to recognise the symptoms.
DID YOU KNOW? Food allergies always involve an 'immune response'. The allergen-specific immune cells mistakenly see the food component (typically protein) as a threat to the body and then they react. The problem is not with food as people think, it's the body's response to the particular food that causes problems.
Allergen | Milk
An intolerance to milk is possibly the most common food allergy, and it's frequently found in infants below the age of three years. Those allergic to cow's milk are likely to react to sheep's or goat's milk, too. An allergy to milk is caused by proteins in milk; and milk proteins are found in a large variety of products from cookies and candies, sausages and soups, cold drinks and mineral supplements. Milk proteins are also frequently used as ingredients in cosmetics and carriers for medicines.
The most common symptoms include eczema and nettle rash or vomiting, diarrhoea, constipation and abdominal pain. Less frequently, reactions may present as hay fever-like symptoms from the nose and eyes and recurrent wheezing.
Symptoms may be present within a few minutes or up to an hour after exposure to milk. These are known as immediate reactions. Any reactions happening after an hour are called delayed reactions; in some cases symptoms show only after days.
The best and only fail-proof treatment for a milk allergy is complete avoidance of cow's milk protein. Infants or little ones who develop a milk allergy usually grow out of the condition. If you're looking to substitute milk, you may want to try soy milk, rice milk, or hypoallergenic formulas based on hydrolysed protein or free amino acids.
Allergen | Eggs
Children are often allergic to eggs. More than half of them outgrow their negative reactions to eggs before adulthood and less than one percent of the adult population have egg allergies. Egg protein is also used in cosmetic products like shampoos but also lotions and creams. Egg proteins are found in many food items ranging from cooked eggs and pasta to cakes and cookies.
Those very sensitive to eggs may elicit an immediate allergic reaction beginning with an itchy mouth and throat, followed by nettle rash, vomiting and asthma. Occasionally eczema may also occur; reactions usually show pretty quickly after eating eggs.
The only established treatment of an egg allergy is to avoid it altogether. Since egg is so widely used as an ingredient in so many products, completely avoiding eggs can be tricky. It's not all bad though; protein is found in high amounts in other foods, and there are plenty of other protein options to choose from.
Allergen | Fish
There appears to be no relationship between fish and shellfish allergies so those with a fish allergy do not necessarily have to avoid shellfish; and vice versa. While an allergy to fish protein is most common, it's also possible to be allergic to fish gelatine made from fish skin and bones. It's best to consult an allergist before taking fish oil dietary supplements.
Fish often shows up in processed foods like pizza toppings, garnishes, sauces and soups. Commonly observed symptoms of fish allergy include skin and gastrointestinal reactions which happen shortly after ingestion. Individuals with allergic reactions to one species of fish tend to be sensitive to other species as well.
The best known treatment for a fish allergy is strict avoidance. Because fish is often implicated in cases of food-induced anaphylaxis, fish-allergic individuals are often advised to treat symptoms of a reaction with adrenaline.
Allergen | Crustacean shellfish
Within the shellfish family, crustaceans like shrimp, lobster and crab cause the greatest number of allergic reactions. Many shellfish-sensitive people can eat molluscs like scallops, oysters, clams and mussels without a problem.
Symptoms of this allergy can range from mild reactions in the mouth to severe life threatening systemic reactions. Since shellfish retains the potential to be allergenic even after heating, it's essential to avoid all forms of shellfish if you have an allergy. It's important to double check any food label; crustacean shellfish may also be present in some processed instant foods like pizza, garnishes, sauces and salad dressings.
The best treatment is, of course, to strictly avoid the food. Carefully check ingredient labels of food products and be extra-careful when you eat out. Waiters, and sometimes the kitchen staff, may not always know every dish ingredient on the restaurant's menu.
Allergen | Tree nuts
Tree nuts comprise a large range of nuts including the Brazil nut, chestnut, hazelnut, pine nut and walnut. Other variations are often also included in this group like almonds, pecan nuts, coconuts, cashews and peanuts. Nuts are known to be one of the most potent allergenic foods in the world, chiefly because so little needs to be ingested to elicit a response and also due to the severity of reactions. Tree nuts are often used as garnishes in salads, ice cream toppings and found in baking mixes, breading, sauces, and desserts and baked goods.
Allergy to nuts often involves severe multi-systemic and respiratory symptoms and occasionally fatal reactions. The most frequent symptoms to tree nut allergies are skin reactions. Cross-contamination of manufactured foods, especially confectionary foods, presents a much greater challenge to manage.
Because adverse reactions to nuts can be triggered by minimal amounts of the food (sometimes even by skin contact or inhalation), it's imperative to strictly avoid the food. Those diagnosed with an allergy to a specific tree nut may be able to tolerate other tree nuts, but it's usually advised to avoid all nuts.
Allergen | Peanuts
Peanut allergy is the most common cause of fatal food-related reactions. Being close to peanuts and having contact on the skin seem to be safe for most of those with a peanut allergy, but there have been reports of reactions induced by inhalation and even kissing someone who has eaten nuts. Roasted peanuts appear to be more allergenic than boiled and fried peanuts.
Allergic reactions to peanuts range from mild swelling and itching in the mouth and throat, to severe life-threatening reactions including shortness of breath and drop in blood pressure. Immediate symptoms like tingling of the lips are a clear warning-sign that contact with peanuts might rapidly develop into a severe reaction.
Vigilance and avoidance is best for peanut allergies. Having epinephrine or carrying an epi-pen is essential in case of an adverse reaction. Peanuts are very difficult to avoid and accidental exposures are frequent.
Allergen | Wheat
Wheat allergy is most common in children but most outgrow it at a relatively young age. The grain is found in myriad different foods from cereals, pastas and crackers to some hot dogs, sauces and ice-cream. It is also found in non-food items like Play-Doh, and some cosmetic and bath products.
Those allergic to wheat-related crops, including barley, oats and rye, can often tolerate rice, though not in every case. Symptoms of this allergy range from mild local reactions on the skin, in the gut and throat to, very occasionally, life-threatening reactions.
While there's no simple substitution for wheat as an ingredient, baked goods such as breads, muffins and cakes can be made using a combination of non-wheat flours made from rice, nuts, corn, sorghum, soy, tapioca or potato starch. There are many options for wheat-free foods including those made from other grains such as corn, rice, quinoa, oats, rye and barley.
Allergen | Soybean
A member of the legume family, soy is a common ingredient in infant formulas and many other processed foods. Soy is used in many non-food products including body lotions and creams, soaps, pet food, adhesives and lubricants. Soy is a common food allergen in young children, though most children will outgrow this allergy by age ten.
Soy may induce all allergic symptoms ranging from itching and swelling of the mouth and throat, nausea, cramps and diarrhoea, hay fever and asthma or hives. Sometimes the symptoms can be life-threatening including shortness of breath and drop of blood pressure.
As with other food allergies, the best way to manage a soy allergy is to avoid food and products that contain it. Those allergic to soy are no more likely to be allergic to tree nuts or peanuts than they would be to another food. Chickpeas make a good soybean substitute in most recipes.
“Wellness Warehouse strives to help you live life well but because we are retailers and not medical practitioners we cannot offer medical advice. Please always consult your medical practitioner before taking any supplements, complementary medicines or have any health concerns and ensure that you always read labels, warnings and directions carefully, prior to consumption.”