What is a food allergy?

Food allergies are relatively common- according to polls, up to 20 percent of the population suffers from a food allergy. However, allergies cannot be confirmed quite as often. In studies, physicians have shown a food allergy rate of 4.2 percent of children and 3.7 percent of adults. Perhaps this is because people with other types of food intolerances, such as Fructose Malabsorption or Lactose Intolerance, misinterpret the symptoms and mistakenly assume they suffer from an allergy.

Those affected by a food allergy show an allergic reaction anywhere from a few minutes to two hours after the consumption of a critical food. The symptoms can vary widely.

Symptoms of a food allergy include:

  • Redness and pimples around the mouth
  • Swelling of tongue and mouth
  • Wheals (hives) on the tongue
  • Severe itching
  • Sneezing
  • Runny nose
  • Coughing
  • Shortness of breath
  • Increased mucus in the respiratory tract
  • Gas
  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Nausea
  • Constipation

The most feared allergic reaction is an anaphylactic shock, in which circulation fails. It occurs very rarely, but can be life-threatening. Therefore, allergy sufferers should always carry an emergency kit with them.

It isn’t just the list of possible symptoms that is long. The manifestations of the reactions to a food also differ greatly. Many people who are suffering from some food allergies, such as Wheat Allergy, have only slight discomfort and, therefore, don’t need to be as careful with their diet. Others suffer so much from a food allergy that they have to be extremely careful about what they eat.

Except for the very rare anaphylactic shock, the symptoms that are triggered by an allergy are nonspecific - and often overlap with the symptoms of other food intolerances, such as Fructose Malabsorption, Lactose Intolerance, or Celiac Disease.

Therefore, even if you notice some of the symptoms mentioned above after consuming certain foods, you are not necessarily allergic. Other causes are conceivable, such as a lack of enzymes (for example Lactose Intolerance), a carbohydrate intolerance (for example Fructose Intolerance or Sorbitol Intolerance), or an autoimmune disease (Celiac Disease). Some people may consider themselves food allergy sufferers, but instead suffer from similar symptoms due to one of these causes. This could explain the large gap between the self-reported (about 20 percent of the population) and actual allergy cases (about 4 percent of the population).

One small hope for allergy-sufferers: Sometimes allergies just disappear. This is often the case for children.

Please see also:

Causes of food allergies

Preventing food allergies

Diagnosing food allergies

Therapy for food allergies