8 Most Common Food Allergies

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What's on your plate?

Photo: Vivian Chen [CC by ND-2.0]/Flickr

The worst thing most people suffer from eating is a wicked case of indigestion. But for some, eating the wrong thing can cause hives, swelling, vomiting and even death. As many as 12 million Americans have a food allergy, including 1 in every 13 children under the age of 18, according to the Food Allergy Initiative. Food allergies occur when the immune system mistakes a food protein as a threat and attempts to protect the body by releasing histamines and other chemicals into the blood. A food allergy is different from food sensitivity or intolerance, which does not involve an immune system reaction. You can be born with a food allergy, or it can develop over time. Eight foods are the root of 90 percent of all food reactions, according to the Mayo Clinic. Want to know what they are? Read on.

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Milk

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Milk allergies are considered the most common food allergy in children. This generally involves cow’s milk, but milk from buffalo, goats and sheep also can cause a reaction. Milk allergy symptoms include wheezing, vomiting, hives and digestive problems, according to the Mayo Clinic. Luckily, milk rarely involves a life-threatening anaphylaxis reaction, which is a whole-body reaction that can cause airways to dangerously tighten. Children tend to outgrow these allergies after age 3.

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Eggs

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Since eggs are such a common ingredient in foods, living with an egg allergy can prove challenging. Most people who are allergic are sensitive to the proteins found in egg whites, though some are irritated by the proteins found in the yolk. Symptoms of an egg allergy include wheezing, nausea, headache, stomachache and itchy hives. Egg allergies are common in children, and usually disappear by age 5. Generally, an allergic reaction to eggs occurs a few minutes to a few hours after eating them.

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Peanuts

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Peanut allergies are common, especially in children. The allergic reaction can range from a mild annoyance to a severe anaphylaxis reaction. Some sufferers are so sensitive to peanuts that air travel is out of the question because of the likelihood of being exposed to peanut dust from the snacks given in flight. People who have had a mild reaction should take precautions, as subsequent exposure can trigger more severe reactions.

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Soy

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Soy, a legume like its cousin the peanut, is a common allergen for infants. Luckily, most children outgrow the allergy by the age of 2, and soy allergies are rare in adults. Symptoms are as varied and include acne, nasal congestion, canker sores, conjunctivitis, fatigue, anaphylaxis and low blood pressure. Soy can be difficult to avoid, as it is found in processed meats, baked goods and many desserts.

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Fish

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Can you enjoy a good salmon steak? Not if you are one of 7 million Americans, or 2.3 percent of the population, who are allergic to fish and shellfish. Fish is a lifelong allergy, and almost half of people with fish allergies first experience symptoms as an adult, which can include swelling, itching, cramps, wheezing, heartburn, dizziness and eczema. Determining a fish allergy can prove complicated, as people may be allergic to one kind of fish but not another. Fish can lurk in the strangest places, including salad dressing, Worcestershire sauce, meatloaf and barbecue sauce.

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Wheat

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Wheat allergy is another common affliction, and can cause stomach upset, eczema, allergic rhinitis, asthma and anaphylaxis. Avoiding wheat isn’t easy, as many unsuspecting products contain it, including ice cream and ketchup. Wheat contains the proteins albumin, globulin, gliadin and gluten, and wheat allergies are often confused with gluten sensitivity. While gluten is found in wheat, the abnormal immune reaction people experience toward it is called celiac disease.

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Shellfish

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While many allergies first appear in childhood, an aversion to shellfish often crops up in adulthood. Along with peanuts and tree nuts, shellfish can produce some of the strong anaphylactic reactions that are considered most dangerous to people with food allergies. There are two kinds of shellfish: crustaceans, like shrimp, crab and lobster, and mollusks, like clams, mussels, oysters and scallops. People may be allergic to crustaceans or mollusks or both. Doctors generally recommend consulting a medical professional to help determine tolerance. Further, if you are allergic to shellfish, that doesn’t mean you will be allergic to bony fish.

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Tree nuts

HealthAliciousNess.com.

As many as 1.8 million Americans are allergic to tree nuts, which are among the leading causes of fatal reactions to food including anaphylaxis. Tree nuts include walnuts, almonds, hazelnuts, cashews, pistachios and Brazil nuts. (Coconuts cause some confusion. Technically they are drupes, but the FDA has classified them as tree nuts.) Tree nuts can be found in salad dressings, honey, pancakes, pasta, veggie burgers and even in barbecue sauce. They are not to be confused with peanuts, which are legumes.