When we experience a food allergy, our bodies think that something (the food) is attacking us, and respond defensively. We may get sick, we may get bumps on our skin. Usually, the symptoms are mild rashes, stuffy nose, or upset stomach. Usually they go away pretty quickly.
There are much more serious food allergy responses that our bodies produce and those, discussed below, are the ones to watch out for. We really can’t wait them out to see if they will go away quickly. If a family member is having trouble breathing, call 911 for emergency help.
According the the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology (AAAAI), the most common food allergens are the proteins in cow’s milk, eggs, peanuts, wheat, soy, fish, shellfish, and tree nuts.¹ These are really important foods in the sense that they are frequently found in childrens’ diets. Peanut butter is a staple for so many children. Wheat, milk, and eggs are in just about everything that peanut butter is not.
The AAAAI also tells us that most of these allergens can cause reactions whether or not the food is cooked. The exception is fruits and vegetables, which usually only cause reactions if the food is eaten raw.²
Who Has Food Allergies?
For some reason, possibly having to do with less well-developed immune systems, kids are about twice as likely as adults to suffer from food allergies. Food allergies are more common in families where other family members also suffer from allergies, like asthma, hay fever, or eczema; that is, food allergies may have a genetic component.
Most kids will outgrow food allergies to eggs, milk, wheat, and soy by the time they are 5 years old. Even though they may outgrow a food allergy to peanuts, if they are allergic to tree nuts (almonds, walnuts, etc.) or seafood, they will likely never outgrow those.³ If a food allergy stays with you through adulthood, you will likely have it for the rest of your life.
Is It Really the Food?
To complicate matters, there are allergens that we perceive as one thing, though they may not be that at all. Have you ever had a stuffy nose after eating Chinese food with soy sauce in it? An allergist/immunologist told me that it is not the soy sauce but the musk and mold in the kegs in which soy sauce is stored and shipped that causes your nasal passages to swell up.
You can see that it’s complicated whether you are actually reacting to a food allergy or some related issue like the mold on the wooden kegs that gets into the soy sauce. Similarly, we may be mildly allergic to cat or dog hair or dust mites and attribute the resulting reactions to something we ate.
Common Food Allergies
The most common food allergies stem from wheat, soy, milk, corn, and peanuts. Yeast is also in there for some kids. Why these foods? Perhaps because they are the most commonly eaten on a regular basis, and, in any large population, there are going to be some people who react negatively to them. Be concerned, though, if your child reacts to tree nuts (not peanuts, which are ground nuts) because those reactions can get very serious.
Just so you know, the most common NON-FOOD allergies are mold/mildew, pet dander, dust and dust mites, pollen, chemicals and perfumes, bacteria, and soot and soot hydrocarbons.
For more information, check out More on Specific Food Allergies page.
1. American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, “Food Allergy: Tips to Remember,” AAAAI Web Site, http://www.aaaai.org/conditions-and-treatments/library/at-a-glance/food-allergy.aspx9/7/2011.