Many years ago, a Fenton mother was delighted when her little boy discovered he liked eating a salad. His favorite dressing was ranch. But there was one problem. The little boy liked to eat the lettuce and salad toppings with his fingers. His fingers, hands and areas around his mouth turned completely red where the ranch dressing made contact. Only one dressing didn’t do that — Ken’s ranch dressing.
The mom called the Ken’s corporate office in Massachusetts to find out what was different about their dressing versus other known brands. No one could figure it out. The allergy was temporary, though. Now that the boy is an adult, he can eat whatever ranch dressing he likes.
What causes food allergies? The short answer is that no one knows. Research suggests they develop from a mix of genetic and environmental influences.
According to foodallergy.org, a food allergy happens when your immune system attacks a food protein. Your body makes its own proteins, called IgE antibodies, or immunoglobulin E, to fight against the food allergen.
When you eat or drink that food again, your body sends out the IgE antibodies to attack the allergen. This process releases chemicals that cause an allergic reaction, which can make you feel itchy, have trouble breathing, or even pass out. If you’re highly sensitive to a food, even breathing it in or having it touch your skin can trigger a reaction.
Your immune system detects and destroys germs, such as bacteria or viruses that could make you sick, sometimes, it makes a mistake and attacks something harmless.
People can be allergic to any food, but eight foods cause most reactions in the U.S. These are milk, egg, peanut, tree nuts, soy, wheat, fish and shellfish.
Some people can make IgE against a certain food allergen but don’t end up developing an allergy. Some experience only mild allergies, while others are more prone to severe, life-threatening reactions. A person’s allergic reactions can vary with each exposure to the offending food, with the same amount of allergen causing mild symptoms in one instance and severe symptoms in another.
Foodallergy.org states that family history is known to play a role. You’re more likely to have a food allergy if a close family member does. If you have other kinds of allergic reactions — conditions like eczema, asthma or hay fever — you are also at greater risk.
You also may become more sensitive to a food allergen if you are exposed to it through air or skin contact. Having pets, livestock or siblings in your environment may lower your risk. The bacteria in your stomach (known as the microbiome) may even have something to do with it.
The most important risk factors for food allergy are things you cannot change.
Age is one of them. Young children are more likely to develop food allergies than older children or adults (though allergies can start at any age).
Having a parent or sibling with a food allergy increases your risk.
People with food allergies tend to have more than one.
Another risk factor is having a related medical condition. Some people develop a cluster of several allergic diseases called the Atopic March. These include eczema, food allergy, allergic rhinitis and asthma.
While there is no cure for food allergies, children can outgrow them. Adults are much less likely to do so.
It is important to have your food allergy confirmed by a board-certified allergist. Food allergy symptoms overlap with symptoms of other medical conditions.
If you have a food allergy, the best way to prevent an allergic reaction is to recognize and avoid the foods that will trigger it. Always carry epinephrine with you to treat accidental exposure.
Recent research shows that early introduction of peanut (before 6 months of age), followed by regular consumption, can help protect children at high risk for peanut allergy. If you delay introduction, it can actually increase the risk.
MOST COMMON FOOD ALLERGIES
People with nut allergies (as well other potentially life-threatening allergies) are advised to carry an epi-pen with them at all times. An epi-pen is a potentially life-saving device that allows those with allergies to inject themselves with a shot of adrenaline if they begin to have a severe allergic reaction. Adrenaline is a naturally occurring hormone that stimulates the body’s “fight or flight” response when you are stressed. When given as an injection to people having a severe allergic reaction, it can reverse the effects of the allergy and save the person’s life.