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Food allergies – what you need to know about this type of allergy


Food allergy is an unpleasant and dangerous disease that occurs in 4-8% of children and 2-4% of adults.

“Among patients suffering from food allergies, 20% are people under the age of 25,” notes Olga Bondarchuk, Associate Professor of the Department of Phthisiology with a course in Allergology and Immunology at Vinnitsa National Medical University.

In children with food allergies, the risk of developing bronchial asthma increases by 4 times, atopic dermatitis by 2.4 times, and respiratory allergies (bronchial asthma, allergic rhinitis) by 3.6 times.

It is food allergies that are the main cause of anaphylaxis in children under 14 years of age. In 30% of cases, it accompanies children’s atopic dermatitis. Fortunately, over time, almost every second child outgrows it.

Why does food allergy occur?

A food allergy is a body reaction that occurs shortly after eating a certain food. The immune system mistakenly identifies a particular food or substance in food as harmful.

– A food allergy is a hypersensitivity reaction, a distorted response of the immune system to certain food molecules. It is due to the participation of immunopathological mechanisms, the expert says. – Most food allergies are caused by class E antibodies (immunoglobulins E). – Clinical manifestations of food allergy, like any other allergic reaction that occurs after repeated consumption of a food product.

If you develop a sensitivity to a certain food, then the next time you eat even the smallest amount of it, antibodies will begin to be produced in response to the causative allergen. They instruct your immune system to release the chemical histamine, as well as other substances, into the blood. These are the ones that cause allergy symptoms.

Food allergies are more common in children, especially in toddlers and infants.

As we grow older, the digestive system matures and allergic reactions decrease.

Children usually outgrow allergies to milk, soy, wheat, and eggs. A severe allergy to nuts and shellfish is likely to remain throughout life.

The most potential food allergens are

  • milk,
  • eggs,
  • fish, especially marine,
  • peanut,
  • soy and
  • nuts.
  • Foods that cause food allergies less frequently, but are still important factors, include:
  • corn
  • gelatin
  • meat (beef, chicken, lamb, pork)
  • seeds (most often – sesame, sunflower, poppy)
  • spices such as cumin, coriander, garlic and mustard

– If we talk about milk, it contains 25 allergenic molecules, but three of them have the greatest sensitizing activity (beta-, alpha-lactoglobulin, casein). Beta is the most allergenic , is not found in human milk and loses its sensitizing properties when heated, notes Olga Bondarchuk. – Allergy to lactoglobulin may disappear in children up to 3-5 years. And for casein, on the contrary, increase. And there are such features in relation to each food product. Therefore, it is important to consult a doctor in time about your symptoms.


Adverse reactions such as digestive problems, rashes or swelling of the airways can trigger even small amounts of food allergens in sensitive people.

Symptoms of food allergies, in most cases, appear from a few minutes to two hours after eating.

The main symptoms of a food allergy include:

1) hives (blisters that itch),

2) swelling of the lips, face, tongue, throat.

3) nausea and vomiting.

4) abdominal pain and diarrhea

5) wheezing

6) decrease in pressure and loss of consciousness.

More patients with severe reactions

Sometimes food allergies can cause more severe symptoms. We are talking about the already mentioned anaphylaxis.

“There is evidence that over the past 10 years the number of children hospitalized with severe anaphylactic reactions has increased by 7 times,” says Olga Bondarchuk. – Therefore, such patients should be registered, wear bracelets or any other jewelry or things with the name of their allergens, and always have a pocket epinephrine dispenser ( epipen ) with them. And, of course, such people should be able to help themselves if necessary and teach this to their immediate environment. In Ukraine, the epinephrine dispenser can be purchased at pharmacies. In some countries, it is allocated under special programs.

How to recognize anaphylaxis?

Signs and symptoms that require special attention:

  • Narrowing and spasm of the airways
  • Swelling of the throat or sensation of a lump in the throat, difficulty breathing
  • Sudden weakness, shock from a severe drop in blood pressure
  • accelerated pulse
  • Dizziness, loss of consciousness

Of decisive importance in anaphylaxis is urgent treatment – the introduction of epinephrine. Otherwise, this condition can be life threatening.

The main symptoms of anaphylaxis are:

  • Difficulty breathing due to narrowing of the airways and swelling of the larynx
  • Accelerated heartbeat
  • A rapid drop in blood pressure that causes dizziness or fainting and cold sweats.
  • Urticaria and angioedema
  • Strong fear or anxiety

At the slightest suspicion of anaphylaxis, adrenaline should be injected. It constricts blood vessels, increases blood pressure and expands the airways. If your doctor, after diagnosing you with a food allergy, finds that you are at risk of developing anaphylaxis, he will advise you to always carry an epinephrine dispenser with you and teach you how to use it.


If your parents have had any allergic reactions, asthma, eczema, seasonal allergies, etc., the risk of developing food allergies increases. The probability of an allergy in a child, in the absence of allergic diseases in parents, is 15-20%. If one of the parents is sick, then – 30-50%, and two – 70-80%.

Also, the risks increase with other types of allergies: an allergy to one food increases the risk of an allergic reaction to another.


– excessive consumption of highly allergenic foods by a pregnant woman (milk, fish, eggs, peanuts, soybeans, nuts, etc.)

– artificial feeding or early transition to it

– diseases of the gastrointestinal tract, liver, pancreas, decreased gastric secretion

– malnutrition

– influence of harmful environmental factors

– violation of local immunity of the mucous membranes

– intestinal parasites.


According to Olga Bondarchuk, food allergies can be identified using typical complaints, a burdened hereditary history (if parents have allergies), and keeping a food diary.

“Specific skin testing (prick test, prick-to-prick test) and molecular allergy diagnostics (determination of specific immunoglobulin E) are also recommended in case of immunoglobulin-E-mediated reactions,” she says.

The treatment of food allergies is based on WHO principles. At the same time, as the scientist notes, there are specific and non-specific methods of treating food allergies in children and adults.

The main method of specific treatment for monosensitization (allergy to 1-2 allergens) is elimination, that is, the removal of a food product from the diet.

When a food allergy is combined with allergic rhinitis, bronchial asthma, atopic dermatitis or insect allergy (sensitivity to insect bites), allergen-specific immunotherapy (treatment with the causative allergen) is indicated. It is also called allergy vaccination . Non-specific methods involve the appointment of drug therapy (for example, antihistamines).

Educational programs for patients are of great importance – they need to learn to know more about their disease.

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