A food allergy is an abnormal immune system response to a harmless food protein. Almost any food may cause an allergic reaction. The top eight most common food allergies are tree nuts, peanuts, milk, eggs, soy, wheat, fish, and shellfish. In children, milk, egg, soy, wheat, and peanut allergies are most common. Some people outgrow their food allergy and others develop more allergies as they get older. Peanut, tree nut, fish, and shellfish allergy are usually life long.

Symptoms usually occur a few minutes after eating the offending food. Allergic reactions range from mild to severe and can affect the skin, lungs, stomach, or heart. Some reactions may cause diarrhea, rashes, or hives. In deadly cases, anaphylaxis may cause the throat to close and blood pressure to drop quickly. About 12 million Americans have a food allergy and about 200 people die each year from severe food reactions. Food intolerances and sensitivities, like lactose intolerance and Celiac disease, can cause stomach problems and can be controlled with food choices like an allergy, but it is not an allergy.

There are no genetic tests to find out your risk for food allergy, but a skin test can confirm if you have a specific allergy. If you have a family history of asthma, atopic dermatitis, allergic rhinitis, or food allergy you are more likely to have a food allergy. At this time, there are no proven medications to prevent allergic reactions. People who are allergic must be very careful because the only treatment is to avoid the food allergen.

Avoiding certain foods and entire food groups can result in calorie, protein, fat, vitamin, and/or mineral deficiencies. Research shows that young children with food allergies tend to have low intakes of calcium, vitamin E, vitamin D, and zinc. Nutritional counseling with a registered dietitian will help prevent poor nutrition and identify foods that may cause reactions.

Chantal Lemoine, RD, LDN, is an Outpatient Clinical Dietitian at East Jefferson General Hospital. For questions regarding nutrition or to make an appointment for outpatient nutritional counseling, call 504-454-4077 or email clemoine@ejgh.org.