More than 50 million Americans have an allergy of some kind. Food allergies are estimated to affect 4 to 6 percent of children and 4 percent of adults, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Food allergy symptoms are most common in babies and children, but they can appear at any age. You can even develop an allergy to foods you have eaten for years with no problems. Learn more about the types of food allergies.
The body’s immune system keeps you healthy by fighting off infections and other dangers to good health. A food allergy reaction occurs when your immune system overreacts to a food or a substance in a food, identifying it as a danger and triggering a protective response. Symptoms of a food allergy can range from mild to severe. Just because an initial reaction causes few problems doesn’t mean that all reactions will be similar; a food that triggered only mild symptoms on one occasion may cause more severe symptoms at another time.
While any food can cause an adverse reaction, eight types of food account for about 90 percent of all reactions:
- Tree nuts
Certain seeds, including sesame and mustard seeds (the main ingredient in the condiment mustard), also are common food allergy triggers and considered a major allergen in some countries.
The primary way to manage a food allergy is to avoid consuming the food that causes you problems. Carefully check ingredient labels of food products, and learn whether what you need to avoid is known by other names.
Be extra careful when eating in restaurants. Waiters (and sometimes the kitchen staff) may not always know the ingredients of every dish on the menu. Depending on your sensitivity, even just walking into a kitchen or a restaurant can cause an allergic reaction.
Many people with food allergies wonder whether their condition is permanent. There is no definitive answer. Allergies to milk, eggs, wheat and soy may disappear over time, while allergies to peanuts, tree nuts, fish and shellfish tend to be lifelong.