There is no single answer to why food allergies occur. Scientists believe that a combination of factors, including a person’s genes and the environment, play a role in the development of food allergies. Some people may be born with a predisposition to certain allergies, while others may develop them later in life. Allergies can also occur when the body’s immune system overreacts to a particular food protein.
There are eight common food allergens, which account for 90% of all food allergies. These are milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, soybeans, wheat, fish, and crustaceans. When someone has a food allergy, their body reacts to a protein in the food as if it were harmful. The immune system produces antibodies to fight off the “invader.”
What Are The Symptoms of Food Allergies?
The most common symptoms of food allergies are itching or tingling in the mouth, facial swelling, redness, eczema, hives, dizziness, wheezing, and difficulty breathing. If you experience any of these symptoms after eating a particular food, it’s important to see an allergist to determine if you have a true allergy.
The way the body reacts to a protein found in food an individual is allergic to can be described as an overreaction. While the substance may be harmless, the body takes it to be a threat and launches an attack the same way it would attack bacteria or a virus, producing allergy symptoms. The immune system releases histamines, which help remove the foreign invaders from the body. Histamines can cause the blood vessels to dilate and the air passages to constrict, which are responsible for the localized allergic reaction.
In severe cases, the flush of histamines in the body can cause anaphylaxis, which is a potentially life-threatening allergic reaction that causes the blood pressure to drop to dangerously low levels, and the constriction of airways and swelling of the tongue and throat, which can cause trouble breathing.
How Are Food Allergies Diagnosed and Treated?
Allergy doctors may use several methods to diagnose food allergies. Common methods of diagnosis include:
- A review of the patient’s medical history and symptoms
- Skin prick test (in which a small amount of the suspected allergen is introduced beneath the skin) or blood test (to measure levels of antibodies)
- Elimination diet (in which suspect foods are removed from the diet for a period of time)
- The gold standard is the oral food challenge, where the patient is given a small amount of a certain food to check for a reaction to it. This is done under the supervision of an allergist.
Treatment for food allergies typically involves avoidance of the offending food(s) and management of reactions with medications, such as antihistamines and epinephrine injectors. In severe cases, the doctor may recommend allergy shots to lessen the severity of food allergy symptoms upon exposure.
Food Allergy Treatment in Northeast Illinois
Food allergies can have fatal outcomes, and anyone who suffers from them should have a treatment plan designed by an allergy doctor. The board-certified allergists at Oak Brook Allergists are highly experienced in treating patients with food allergies and helping them manage their symptoms, reducing the risk of a poor outcome.
Don’t delay seeing an allergy doctor for a food allergy. To schedule an appointment with us, call our main office at (630) 574-0460 or use our convenient online request form. Oak Brook Allergists has four locations in northeast Illinois – Downers Grove, Elmhurst, Naperville, and Plainfield.