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Food Allergies: Reducing the Risks

Signs and Symptoms

Symptoms of a food allergy usually develop within about an hour after eating the offending food. The most common signs and symptoms of a food allergy include:

  • Hives, itching, or skin rash
  • Swelling of the lips, face, tongue and throat, or other parts of the body
  • Wheezing, nasal congestion, or trouble breathing
  • Abdominal pain, diarrhea, nausea, or vomiting
  • Dizziness, lightheadedness, or fainting

In a severe allergic reaction to food—called anaphylaxis—you may have more extreme versions of the above reactions. Or you may experience life-threatening signs and symptoms such as:

  • Swelling of the throat and air pas­sages that makes it difficult to breathe
  • Shock, with a severe drop in blood pressure
  • Rapid, irregular pulse
  • Loss of consciousness

Major Food Allergens

FALCPA, a comprehensive food labeling law, has been in effect since January 1, 2006.
Under FALCPA, food labels are required to state clearly whether the food contains a major food allergen.

A major food allergen is defined as one of the following foods or food groups, or is an ingredient that contains protein derived from one of the following foods or food groups:

  • Milk
  • Eggs
  • Peanuts
  • Tree nuts such as almonds, walnuts, and pecans
  • Soybeans
  • Wheat
  • Fish
  • Shellfish such as crab, lobster, and shrimp

"These foods or food groups account for 90 percent of all food allergies in the United States, and FALCPA focuses on IgE-related food allergies," according to Luccioli. "This law does not protect everyone with a food allergy, but should protect the majority of people who may have severe allergic responses to foods," he says.

More than 160 different foods have been reported to cause allergies; the list of major allergens in the United States is limited to eight foods. "Other countries may have different foods on their lists because food allergies reflect patterns of consumption," Luccioli says. "For example, in Europe there is a high prevalence of allergies to mustard and celery."

WebMD Public Information from the FDA