Did you know that according to Food Allergy Research & Education, approximately 32 million Americans have food allergies? Around 170 foods have been identified to cause allergies and the most common are milk, egg, peanuts, tree nuts, wheat, soy, fish and crustaceans. Although most food allergies develop during childhood, they can ultimately develop at any age, even to foods that you were previously not allergic to.
Like any other type of allergy, a food allergy is an overreaction by your immune system in response to a particular food or substance within that food. Your immune system responds as if the food or substance is a threat to your health and can cause a range of symptoms. Specifically food allergies affect antibodies that move through your blood known as immunoglobulin E (IgE), as well as mast cells. Mast cells are found all over the body, but are concentrated in areas such as the nose, throat, lungs, skin, and digestive tract. This is why many allergic reactions affect these structures.
Some allergic reactions are extremely serious and require immediate care, such as anaphylaxis. Others may not be as noticeable or as urgent, however they still affect your body in particular ways. Here are some of the ways that food allergies can affect your body:
Skin irritation can take many forms, such as those listed hives, pale or blue colored skin, itchy skin, rash, or eczema. Eczema is a form of skin irritation commonly associated with foods such as dairy, nuts, wheat, soy, and eggs. It is characterized by inflamed, dry, and flaky skin that occurs as a result of simply touching the food, as well as from eating the food. Hives, or urticaria, are raised bumps that can occur all over the body and generally signal an allergic reaction to peanuts, eggs, nuts, and shellfish.
When it comes to identifying gastrointestinal symptoms like vomitting and stomach cramps, there can be some confusion between having a food allergy and a food intolerance. As mentioned before, a food allergy is caused by an immune system response. Although food intolerance can produce similar symptoms, food intolerance is caused by an inability to digest the food properly. When considering the cause of gastrointestinal symptoms, it is important to note that a food allergy will cause a reaction no matter how much of the substance is consumed, while symptoms of food intolerance are directly related to the amount of the substance consumed. Additionally food allergies usually have other symptoms that affect other areas of the body, while food intolerance only affects the gastrointestinal tract.
The heart contains highly concentrated areas of mast cells that are activated by allergens. When mast cells become activated, this can affect ventricular function, cardiac rhythm, and coronary artery tone. Cardiovascular symptoms are not usually present and are an indication of anaphylaxis. As such, they require immediate medical attention.
Respiratory symptoms such as shortness of breath, wheezing, tightness or hoarseness in the throat, trouble swallowing, and repetitive cough can occur as a result of simply inhaling food particles, however they most likely occur from actually eating the food. In most cases, respiratory symptoms are also accompanied by symptoms affecting the skin and gastrointestinal system. In some cases, allergens can cause an asthmatic response. Since respiratory symptoms can also indicate anaphylaxis, it is important to seek immediate medical attention.
As you can see, food allergies can affect the body in many different ways. Treatment for food allergies usually consists of simply avoiding the foods that cause a reaction. However this is contingent on the fact that you are aware what foods cause allergic reactions. If you believe you have a food allergy, but are not sure what foods are causing it, scheduling a consultation for food allergy testing can be beneficial.
Dr. Clouthier has obtained numerous certifications in various healing techniques such as Nutrition Response Testing, Acupuncture, NueroEmotional Technique, CranioSacral Therapy, and NeuroModulation Technique. He has also taken over 1000 hours in post-graduate training in nutritional and herbal therapies and functional medicine and is currently pursuing an advanced certification from the Institute for Functional Medicine.