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What You Should Know About Food Allergies

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When you get heartburn from eating certain foods, you may pop an antacid and go about your day. There may be more at work than the periodic indigestion. It may be a sign that you have a food allergy. The symptoms of an allergic response can mimic other gastrointestinal problems including stomach cramps, constipation and diarrhea. Allergy testing for specific foods will give you a heads-up of which items to limit or avoid in your diet. This article will give you some basic information about foods that cause allergies, symptoms to watch for, and steps you can take to avoid problems. 

The Big Eight

The Mayo Clinic notes that just eight foods cause nearly 90 percent of the diagnosed food allergies. They include:

  • milk and other dairy products
  • peanuts, Spanish peanuts and other ground nuts
  • almonds, cashews, walnuts and other tree nuts
  • eggs
  • fish
  • shellfish
  • soy and soy products
  • wheat and gluten-based flours

Because they show up as the cause of allergies so often, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requires manufacturers to list them on food labels. Because sensitivity to nuts can be so severe as to cause anaphylactic shock, manufacturers must list when a food item is packaged on or near equipment also used to process nuts.

Common Reactions to Food Allergens

Your body reacts to a food allergy much like you respond to air-born allergens, such as pollen. Since you ingest the foods, additional gastrointestinal responses are common. The severity of the symptoms can range from mildly irritating to nearly debilitating.

Since an allergic response to food can occur with exposure to a small amount, knowing that you have a food allergy is important so you don't eat a large quantity and have a severe reaction. The most common allergic responses include:

  • sneezing, coughing, runny nose
  • swelling of the lips and mouth
  • abdominal cramps
  • diarrhea or constipation
  • difficulty breathing
  • inflammation in the esophagus
  • nausea and vomiting

Notes on Specific Food Allergies

Treatment of the most common food allergies is often avoidance of the food or the use of a close alternative. Medical treatment often focuses on reducing the symptoms and does not reverse the allergy itself. Here is how you can navigate around the typical food allergies:

Milk - A reaction to dairy products is to the particular protein found in cow's milk. Some people do not have a reaction to other animal milk such as goat or sheep. Other people react to all animal milk proteins and substitute rice, soy or almond milk.

Nuts - These allergies often show up in childhood when kids are introduced to peanut butter or a snack that contains nuts. This allergy can bring on severe breathing problems and even anaphylactic shock, which can be life threatening. People with nut allergies learn to be especially good at interpreting food labels for any sign of nut products. For example, nuts are sometimes used as a thickener for soups and sauces.

Gluten - Wheat flour contains gluten, which has become a more common cause of gastrointestinal distress in people. There is no direct treatment for this allergy, so avoidance is the key. Many food products contain wheat flour, so look for those that use gluten-free alternatives such as rice flours, tapioca starch and potato starch.

The next time you have heartburn after eating, look back on what you ate and see if you can spot a food allergy. Allergy testing, from somewhere like Allergy Clinic - Idaho, is an easy way to identify those foods to limit or completely remove from your diet.