A food allergy is an abnormal response to a food triggered by our body's immune system. Symptoms can occur when coming in contact with even a tiny amount of the food. As some of the symptoms of intolerance and allergy are the same, it is quite common that many people consider themselves 'allergic' to certain foods, while in reality they are 'intolerant.' Often people experience an itch in the mouth and throat after eating raw or uncooked fruits or vegetables, which may be indicate oral allergy syndrome, but not to the food itself. Eight types of food account for about 90 percent of all reactions allergic reactions — eggs, milk, peanuts, tree nuts, fish, shellfish, wheat, and soy.
Common symptoms may include — vomiting; diarrhoea or abdominal cramps and pain; itching or swelling in the mouth; hives or eczema; drop in blood pressure; shortness of breath; wheezing; tight, hoarse throat; trouble in swallowing; swelling of the tongue, affecting the ability to talk or breathe; weak pulse; pale or blue colouring of skin; and dizziness. There is also a chance of having anaphylaxis, a potentially life-threatening reaction that can impair breathing and send the body into shock.
Most food-related symptoms occur within two to six hours of ingestion but they can start within minutes after consumption of the food. Delayed reactions are most typically seen in children who develop eczema and severe gastrointestinal reactions that generally occur after consuming milk, soy, and certain grains.
While allergies tend to run in families, it is impossible to predict whether a child will inherit a parent's food allergy or whether siblings will have a similar condition.
Food allergy can be diagnosed by laboratory tests, but very few are available in our country. Therefore, a person needs to identify the food s/he is allergic to depending on the symptoms. For infants and children, parents should be careful in identifying the symptoms.
Once an allergy is diagnosed, the most effective treatment is to avoid the food. People allergic to a specific food may also potentially have a reaction to related foods. Those allergic to shrimp may react to crab and lobster as well. Allergies to milk, eggs, wheat and soy may disappear over time, while allergies to peanuts, tree nuts, fish and shellfish tend to last.
It is advised that mothers breast-feed their children for as long as possible to prevent food allergies in infants.