Food allergies are a very confusing subject for many of my patients. They are confusing because some are easy to identify and some are more difficult to identify. Food allergies can be challenging to diagnose because they can cause symptoms in parts of the body outside of the digestive tract or make other diseases worse. So lets first understand what are food allergies and the different ways they present in the body.
Allergies occur when there is an adverse response from our immune system. Food allergies occur when there is an adverse reaction from our immune system to foods that we are eating or drinking. How does our body know to have a reaction? There are proteins on our foods that act as a marker to tell our body what we are eating. These proteins are called antigens. When our immune system comes in contact with our foods it identifies the food and our body then registers whether we it is something that it is allergic to or not. If our immune system has a reaction to the food then it produces a substance called an antibody which then attaches itself to the marker or antigen on the food. This antigen-antibody complex alerts the immune system to come and get rid of the substance that is causing the reaction.
Our immune system has several different allergic reactions to foods. I will discuss the 2 most common. The first is called an anaphylactic reaction. This reaction is a severe reaction causing the immune system to over-react to the food being ingested. Symptoms of an allergic anaphylactic reaction may be a tingling sensation, itching, or a metallic taste in the mouth. This may be followed by skin conditions like hives on the body, digestive symptoms of vomiting, diarrhea, cramping, breathing symptoms like sensation of warmth, wheezing or other difficulty breathing, coughing, swelling of the mouth and throat area. Finally there may be a drop in blood pressure, and loss of consciousness and even death. Anaphylactic reactions are usually identified in early childhood and cause the patients to carry a special medication needle in case they accidentally eat a food they are allergic too.