In a food allergy, the immune system overreacts to certain proteins in your food and starts making antibodies. Proteins that cause this reaction are called allergens. Examples of foods containing allergens are: grain products, milk (cow’s milk protein), fish, peanuts, nuts, soy and shellfish.
A food allergy can be very similar to a food intolerance because in both, gastrointestinal symptoms can occur after eating certain foods. There are a wide variety of symptoms and signs that can indicate a food allergy. If you suspect you have a food allergy, visit your doctor to have it checked out. Examples of symptoms include:
- Abdominal pain
- Problems with stool (diarrhoea or constipation)
- Pain in the mouth
- Skin complaints such as itching, eczema and red bumps
- Lung complaints such as tightness of the chest
- Eye discomfort
- Fatigue, tiredness
People with a pollen allergy or hay fever may experience additional symptoms after eating certain fruits, vegetables or nuts. We call this a cross-reaction. With a food allergy, the body’s reaction can sometimes be so severe that it can go into anaphylactic shock; a life-threatening complaint that must be prevented at all costs.
A food allergy can start in childhood and continue into adulthood, although sometimes a child will grow out of it. With a food allergy, even a small trace of an allergen can trigger a severe reaction. Therefore, dietary adjustments are usually necessary and medication may be required to suppress the symptoms.
If you know which allergen you are allergic to, then you can avoid it through a special diet. You will have to completely eliminate the allergen from your diet, because even a small trace can trigger a severe allergic reaction. Therefore, always get the help of a dietitian to put together your diet. The European Union has determined that the food allergens that cause the most hypersensitive reactions must be listed on a product’s label. In the list of ingredients, these are often printed in bold.
If you have severe allergic reactions, your doctor may prescribe medication to suppress your symptoms.