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Living With a Food Allergy

A food allergy is caused when the body's immune system mistakes an ingredient in food, usually a protein, as harmful and creates a defense system (antibodies) to fight it. An allergic reaction occurs when the antibodies battle the "invading" food. Although a person could have an allergy to almost any food, the following foods account for almost 90% of all food-related allergic reactions:

Strictly avoiding trigger foods is the only way to prevent a reaction and maintain control over a food allergy. To make sure you eat a well-balanced diet while avoiding allergy triggers, talk to a registered dietician. Here are some tips to get your started.

  • Work with your health care provider to develop a written action plan that outlines what to do in the case of an allergic reaction. Make sure friends and loved ones know what to do in an emergency.
  • Always take worsening allergy symptoms seriously.
  • Diversify your diet by eating fruits and vegetables that are more exotic, especially if you are allergic to those that are more common.
  • Invest in a cookbook with recipes that cater to your food allergy. In some cases, common food allergens can be easily removed or substituted in recipes.
  • Be aware of any changes in how you feel after eating. Recognizing the onset of an allergic reaction allows you to take quick action.

Always Be Prepared With Food Allergies

  • If you or a loved one has a food allergy, be prepared for an emergency. If you have severe food allergies and have medication to prevent anaphylaxis, carry your medicine at all times in case you accidentally eat a trigger food. If you have an anaphylactic reaction, be sure someone knows to take you to the emergency room.
  • An organization called "The Food Allergy Initiative" advises people with food allergies to carry a card that lists the foods to which they are allergic. The card can be given to the chef, manager, or server prior to ordering food at a restaurant.


Beware of Hidden Trigger Foods

Foods that trigger allergies can be found in the most unlikely foods, so keep the following points in mind.

  • The same deli meat slicer used to cut meats is likely used to cut cheese products, too. When this is done, small particles of cheese can be transferred to sliced meats.
  • To add flavor, some restaurants melt butter on steaks after they have been grilled.
  • Casein, a milk protein, is sometimes used in canned meats.
  • Eggs are sometimes used to create the foam topping on specialty coffee drinks.
  • Some ethnic dishes, such as African, Chinese, Indonesian, Mexican, Thai, and Vietnamese foods, contain peanuts or are prepared in areas near peanuts.
  • Some beanbags and hacky sacks are filled with crushed nutshells.
  • Some labels use the term "may contain" to indicate the possible, but unintentional, presence of foods allergens in their products.


WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by David T. Derrer, MD on May 23, 2014

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