Food allergy is treated by avoiding the problem foods. Once a patient and doctor have identified the food to which the patient is sensitive, the food must be removed from the patient's diet. To do this, patients must read lengthy, detailed ingredient lists on each food they are considering eating.

Many allergy-producing foods -- such as peanuts, eggs, and milk -- appear in foods one normally would not associate them with. Peanuts, for example, are often used as a protein source and eggs are used in some salad dressings. The FDA requires ingredients in a food to appear on its label. People can avoid most of the things to which they are sensitive if they read food labels carefully and avoid restaurant-prepared foods that might have ingredients to which they are allergic.

In highly allergic people even minuscule amounts of a food allergen (for example, 1/44,000 of a peanut kernel) can prompt an allergic reaction. Other less sensitive people may be able to tolerate small amounts of a food to which they are allergic.

Tips for avoiding allergic reactions to foods

  • Be aware of the foods that cause your symptoms.
  • Learn to read food labels carefully.
  • When dining out, ask about the ingredients used in preparing the dish before tasting the food.

Be prepared

Patients with severe food allergies must be prepared to treat an inadvertent exposure. Even people who know a lot about what they are sensitive to occasionally make a mistake. A restaurant may also make mistakes and use dishes and utensils that may contain small amounts of the food you are trying to avoid. Anaphylactic allergic reactions can be fatal even when they start off with mild symptoms such as a tingling in the mouth and throat or GI discomfort.

To protect yourself, you should:

  • Wear a medical alert bracelet or necklace stating that you have a food allergy and are subject to severe reactions
  • Carry a syringe of epinephrine (adrenaline), obtained by prescription from your health care provider, and be prepared to give it to yourself if you think you are getting a food allergic reaction
  • Seek medical help immediately by either calling the rescue squad or by getting transported to an emergency room if you have a reaction

Schools and day care centers must have plans in place to address any food allergy emergency.

Treating non-anaphylactic reactions

There are several medications that a patient can take to relieve food allergy symptoms that are not part of a full-blown anaphylactic reaction. These include antihistamines to relieve gastrointestinal symptoms, hives, or sneezing and a runny nose. Bronchodilators can relieve asthma symptoms. You should take these medicines if you have accidentally eaten a food to which you are allergic. They do not prevent an allergic reaction when taken before eating the food. No medicine in any form will reliably prevent an allergic reaction to that food before eating it.

Read more about food allergies:

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.

Addtitional Reference

Boyce JA, Assa'ad A, Burks AW, et al. Guidelines for the diagnosis and management of food allergy in the United States: report of the NIAID-sponsored expert panel. J Allergy Clin Immunol. 2010 Dec;126(6 Suppl):S1-58.

Review Date: 6/29/2011

Reviewed By: Paula J. Busse, MD, Assistant Professor of Medicine, Division of Clinical Immunology, Mount Sinai School of Medicine, New York, NY, Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.

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