Food allergy affects up to 6 - 8% of children under the age of 3 and 2% of adults. People often have an unpleasant reaction to something they ate and wonder if they have a food allergy. One out of three people either believe they have a food allergy or modify their or their family's diet. Thus, while food allergy is commonly suspected, health care providers diagnose it less frequently than most people believe.
This difference between the clinically proven prevalence of food allergy and the public perception of the problem is due, in part, to reactions called "food intolerances," rather than food allergies. (Food intolerance is more common than food allergy.) A food allergy, or hypersensitivity, is an abnormal response to a food due to the person having an IgE antibody to that food. The response is triggered by the immune system. However, the immune system does not cause symptoms of food intolerance, even though they may resemble those of a food allergy.
If you suspect a food allergy, call your doctor for an appointment. If you or your child have true food allergies, it is extremely important for you to identify them and prevent allergic reactions. Food allergy reactions can, in some cases, be fatal. Treatment is avoiding the food(s) after it is identified and being prepared if a reaction does occur.
For more information on food allergies, visit the Food Allergy Network at www.foodallergy.org.
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Created by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. Modified and updated by A.D.A.M., Inc. Illustration copyright A.D.A.M., Inc.