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Food Allergy

Medically reviewed by Last updated on Jul 7, 2024.

What is a food allergy?

A food allergy is an immune system reaction to a food. A food allergen is an ingredient or chemical in a food that causes your immune system to react. Allergic reactions happen when your immune system fights too strongly against an allergen and causes you to get sick. Allergic reactions can happen within minutes to several hours after you eat, touch, or smell the food. You can also have a second reaction up to 8 hours later.

What increases my risk for a food allergy?

A food allergy can develop at any time. Many children outgrow allergies to peanut, milk, wheat, and egg by late childhood. Food allergies that develop in adults often do not go away. Food allergies often begin in children aged 2 years or younger. A family history of a food allergy increases the risk. You are more likely to have food allergies if you also have eczema, hay fever, or asthma.

What are the most common food allergies?

What are the signs and symptoms of a food allergy?

How are food allergies diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider will ask about your symptoms after you eat, touch, or smell certain foods. Your provider will ask how long it takes for symptoms to appear and how long they last. Your provider will also ask about the amount of food that triggers symptoms. You may need to keep a food diary to write down everything you eat and any symptoms that develop. You may need additional testing if you developed anaphylaxis after you were exposed to a trigger and then exercised. This is called exercise-induced anaphylaxis. A trigger can be any food or a specific food you are allergic to. You may also need the following:

How is an allergic reaction to food treated?

You may need to see specialists, such as an allergist or dietitian, for ongoing care. Your provider may want to test you regularly to see if the food allergy changes. Write down your questions so you remember to ask them during follow-up visits. The following may be needed:

Treatment options

The following list of medications are related to or used in the treatment of this condition.

What steps do I need to take for signs or symptoms of anaphylaxis?

What safety precautions do I need to take if I am at risk for anaphylaxis?

What do I need to know about vaccines and egg allergy?

Tell healthcare providers if you have an egg allergy before you receive any vaccine. Some vaccines contain egg protein that can cause an anaphylactic reaction. The flu vaccine is considered safe for a person with an egg allergy. An egg-free vaccine may be available. Your provider will tell you if you should get the egg-free vaccine instead. You may need tests before you can receive certain other vaccines. Your provider can give you more information.

Call your local emergency number (911 in the US) for signs or symptoms of anaphylaxis,

such as trouble breathing, swelling in your mouth or throat, or wheezing. You may also have itching, a rash, hives, or feel like you are going to faint.

When should I seek immediate care?

When should I call my doctor?

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your healthcare providers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

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Further information

Always consult your healthcare provider to ensure the information displayed on this page applies to your personal circumstances.