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Food Allergy

Being allergic to a food means your immune system reacts to that food as if it were a harmful substance.

This immune response releases chemicals in your body that can cause hives, shortness of breath, tongue swelling and other symptoms. 

These are some of the foods most likely to trigger allergic reactions:

  • Peanuts
  • Tree nuts
  • Wheat
  • Soy
  • Egg
  • Milk
  • Shellfish

Food allergy: what you should know

  • Some allergies can develop in adults, but many begin in childhood. Most kids grow out of allergies to cow’s milk, soy and wheat, but allergies to tree nuts, peanuts and shellfish usually do not go away.
  • True food allergies are relatively rare. Food sensitivities — which cause reactions that don’t involve the immune system — are often mistaken for food allergies.
  • If you have reactions only sometimes or only when you at a lot of the food in question, you may have a food sensitivity rather than an allergy.
  • Some people with seasonal allergic rhinitis, or hay fever, have allergic reactions to foods containing proteins that resemble pollens and other allergens. This is called oral allergy syndrome.

How can I get help for food allergies?

These are the most common signs of a food allergy:

  • Tingling in the mouth
  • Hives
  • Swelling of the eyelids, face, lips or tongue
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Shortness of breath
  • Lightheadedness
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting and diarrhea

But having these symptoms doesn’t necessarily mean you have a food allergy. Other conditions — such as food sensitivities — may have similar symptoms.

Allergy experts at Rush can draw on their decades of experience to find the root of your problem.

Care for food allergies at Rush

Doctors at Rush might use one or more of the following to determine whether you have a food allergy:

  • Detailed medical history
  • Elimination diet : You stop eating possible allergens and then add them back into your diet one by one to find out which ones are causing you reactions.
  • Percutaneous skin testing : Doctors place a small amount of the suspected allergen on your skin and then prick the skin with a needle so that the substance seeps under the surface.
  • Oral food challenge : You eat small amounts of suspected allergens under medical supervision.

Once you know what foods are causing your allergic reaction, the only treatment is avoiding them.

Your doctor can help you create a plan for what to do in case you are accidentally exposed. This plan will likely involve carrying a device you can use to inject yourself with epinephrine (sometimes called an EpiPen) in case of accidental exposure.

Why choose Rush for food allergy care

  • Many people with food allergies also have asthma, food intolerance or other related conditions. Rush has a Celiac Disease and Food Sensitivity Clinic where you can be seen for these related issues at the same time.
  • At Rush you can see doctors and nurses who understand the needs of children with food allergies and sensitivities. They can work with you to create a plan for the school nurse or teachers to follow when your child has unintended exposure to the foods that trigger their allergic reactions.

Departments and programs that treat this condition