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Food allergy is a serious medical condition affecting up to 17 million people in the United States, including 1 in 13 children. Whether you’re newly diagnosed or brushing up on the facts, learning all you can about the disease is the key to staying safe and living well with food allergies.

What is Food Allergy? The job of the body’s immune system is to identify and destroy germs (such as bacteria or viruses) that make you sick. A food allergy results when the immune system mistakenly targets a harmless food protein – an allergen – as a threat and attacks it.

Unlike other types of food disorders, such as intolerances, food allergies are “IgE mediated.” This means that your immune system produces abnormally large amounts of an antibody called immunoglobulin E — IgE for short. IgE antibodies fight the “enemy” food allergens by releasing histamine and other chemicals, which trigger the symptoms of an allergic reaction.

Allergens

Although nearly any food is capable of causing an allergic reaction, there are eight foods that cause the majority of reactions. These foods are:

  • Peanut
  • Tree nuts
  • Milk
  • Egg
  • Wheat
  • Soy
  • Fish
  • Shellfish

Another common allergen is sesame, which affects hundreds of thousands of Americans. The information in this section offers a more in-depth look at each of these common food allergens, and provides guidance for avoiding these ingredients.

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Symptoms

An allergic reaction to food can affect the skin, the gastrointestinal tract, the respiratory tract, and, in the most serious cases, the cardiovascular system. Reactions can range from mild to severe, including the potentially life-threatening condition known as anaphylaxis. In the U.S., food allergy symptoms send someone to the emergency room every three minutes.

Symptoms typically appear within minutes to several hours after eating the food to which you are allergic. Keep in mind that children may communicate their symptoms in a different manner than adults.

An allergic reaction to food can affect the skin, the gastrointestinal tract, the respiratory tract, and, in the most serious cases, the cardiovascular system. Reactions can range from mild to severe, including the potentially life-threatening condition known as anaphylaxis. In the U.S., food allergy symptoms send someone to the emergency room every three minutes.

Symptoms typically appear within minutes to several hours after eating the food to which you are allergic. Keep in mind that children may communicate their symptoms in a different manner than adults.

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