Food allergy is an immune system reaction that occurs soon after
eating a certain food. Ingestion of an even tiny amount of the allergy-causing food
may trigger the sudden release of chemicals, including histamine, resulting in symptoms
of an allergic reaction. The symptoms usually begin immediately, within 2 hours after
eating and may be mild (rashes, hives, itching, swelling, etc.) or severe (trouble
breathing, wheezing, loss of consciousness, etc.). A food allergy frequently starts in
childhood, but it can begin at any age. A food allergy is potentially life-threatening
and affects an estimated 6 to 8 percent of children under age 4 and about 4 percent of
adults (NIAID). Many children outgrow their allergies to milk, egg, wheat, and soy by
the time they are 5 years old if they avoid the offending foods when they are young.
However, allergies to peanuts, nuts, fish, and shellfish are tend to be lifelong.
Currently, there is no cure for food allergies. Strict avoidance of the allergy-causing
food is the only way to avoid a reaction. In spite of attempts to avoid allergenic foods,
accidental exposures are the major causes of allergic reactions to foods. Over a period
of two years, approximately 50 percent of subjects in the United States with food
allergy have an allergic reaction to accidental exposure. In the United States,
there are approximately 30,000 episodes of food-induced anaphylaxis, associated with
100 to 200 deaths; most deaths occur in adolescents and young adults.
Food allergy risk factors include:
- Family history: A person is at increased risk of food allergies if asthma, eczema, hives or allergies, such as hay fever, are common in close family members.
- A prior food allergy: Children who have outgrown a food allergy may see it return later in life.
- Other food allergies: Individuals already experiencing allergic reactions to certain types of foods may develop allergies to other foods.
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