Dr. MJ Bazos MD,
Food Allergies: Just
Many of the things we think we know about food
allergy are really just myths--stories that are commonly known but aren't based
on science. This handout will help you learn the facts about food allergies.
Myth Number 1: Food allergy is very
Fact: Although 25% of people think they're
allergic to certain foods, studies show that about only 6% of children and 1% to
2% of adults have a food allergy.
Myth Number 2: Most people with food
allergies are allergic to strawberries and tomatoes.
Fact: Babies and young children are most often
allergic to milk, eggs, wheat, soybean products and peanuts. Older children and
adults are most often allergic to peanuts, tree nuts (like walnuts, almonds and
cashews), fish and shellfish.
Myth Number 3: Some people are
allergic to sugar.
Fact: A condition is called a food allergy when
the immune system (the part of the body that fights infections) thinks a certain
protein in a food is a "foreign" agent and fights against it. This doesn't
happen with sugars and fats.
Myth Number 4: Milk allergy is very
common and causes diarrhea in adults.
Fact: Many adults have trouble digesting the
sugar in milk. This is called "lactose intolerance." It isn't a true allergy.
Myth Number 5: People with food
allergies are allergic to many foods.
Fact: Most people with food allergies are
allergic to fewer than 4 foods.
Myth Number 6: Food allergy makes
Fact: The most common "sudden" symptoms of food
allergy are hives (large "bumps" on the skin), swelling, itchy skin, itchiness
or tingling in the mouth, or a metallic taste, coughing, trouble breathing or
wheezing, throat tightness, diarrhea and vomiting. There may also be a feeling
of "impending doom"--a feeling that something bad is going to happen, pale skin
because of low blood pressure, or loss of consciousness (fainting). The most
common chronic illnesses associated with food allergies are eczema and asthma.
Myth Number 7: Allergy to food dye
Fact: Bad reactions to food dyes are rare. They
may occur in fewer than 1 of 100 children and in fewer than 1 of 500 adults.
Myth Number 8: Food allergy is
lifelong--or is always outgrown.
Fact: Children usually "outgrow" allergies to
milk, eggs, soybean products and wheat. However, people rarely outgrow allergies
to peanuts, tree nuts, fish and shellfish.
Myth Number 9: Food allergy is not
Fact: Food allergy can be fatal if it causes a
reaction called anaphylaxis (say: "anna-phil-ax-iss"). This reaction makes it
hard for a person to breathe. Fast treatment with a medicine called epinephrine
(say: "epp-in-eff-rin") can save your life. If you have a severe allergy, your
doctor might give you a prescription for epinephrine in small, pre-filled
syringes. Your doctor can show you how to use them and tell you when to use
them. If your doctor thinks you might need to use this medicine, you'll need to
carry a syringe with you at all times.
A person having an allergic reaction should be
taken by ambulance to a hospital emergency room, because the symptoms might
start again even after epinephrine is given. They might start again hours later.
Once a true food allergy is diagnosed, you
should avoid the food that caused it. If you have an allergy, you must read the
labels on all the prepared foods you eat. Your doctor can help you learn how to
avoid eating the wrong foods. If your child has food allergies, give the school
and other caretakers instructions that list the foods to be avoided and tell
what to do if the food is eaten accidentally.