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Understanding Food Allergies

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Food allergies are more common today than ever before. In my lifetime alone, food allergies have gone from seeming to be rather rare and unusual, to something we all either have or know someone who has. They can run the gamut from being slightly lactose intolerant to being full-blown allergic, so much so that entire school cafeterias can be “peanut-free zones”, and my own sons shake their heads, scornfully, if I pack them a granola bar for snack.

“Don’t you know, Mom, that granola bars are made in factories that also produce nut-based products? These are NOT okay in school, or even on the bus!”

I slink off with my tail between my legs contemplating the madness I’d almost engaged in.

So what is a food allergy exactly? Basically, your immune system says “no” and responds with disease fighting antibodies known as immunoglobulin E or IgE. This is a defensive reaction even though the food itself may not be poisonous or truly harmful.

Histamine is released as a result of the IgE becoming activated by the particular food or foods, and it is this histamine which can have such an intense and sometimes quite dangerous effect on the skin, cardiovascular system or gastrointestinal tract.

Some symptoms of food allergies include vomiting, rashes on the skin, bowel irritation and/or diarrhea, abdominal cramps and bloating, breathing problems, hives, tongue and or throat swelling, a tingling or irritated feeling in one’s mouth, a drop in blood pressure and in some cases, passing out or losing consciousness.

The most severe outcomes of anaphylaxis, which is the most extreme food allergy reaction, include death.

These symptoms may occur right away, or it may take up to two hours for them to manifest. Once a food allergy is known, a person is more likely to understand the subtleties of their reactions more quickly.

In some instances, the food itself can cause a rash on the skin where there is contact. In rarer cases, even the odor of a particular food can cause an allergic reaction.

Peanuts are a very common allergen these days, as are milk, eggs, tree nuts (including walnuts, almonds and pecans) and of course, seafood.

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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.

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