Food Allergy: Facts, Causes and Incidence

What is food allergy?

  • A food allergy is an immune system response to a food protein that the body mistakenly believes is harmful. When the individual eats food containing that protein, the immune system releases massive amounts of chemicals, triggering symptoms that can affect a person’s breathing, gastrointestinal tract, skin and/or heart.
  • Signs and symptoms of food allergy can be mild, moderate or severe.
  • An allergic reaction can include; hives, swelling of the lips, face and eyes, abdominal pain, vomiting, swelling of the tongue, swelling of the throat, breathing difficulty, persistent dizziness and/collapse. If left untreated, signs and symptoms related to breathing and heart/blood pressure can be fatal.

What is anaphylaxis?

  • Food allergies can be severe, causing potentially life-threatening reactions known as anaphylaxis. Anaphylaxis must be treated as a medical emergency, requiring immediate treatment.
  • Anaphylaxis is a generalised allergic reaction, which often involves more than one body system. A severe allergic reaction or anaphylaxis always involves the respiratory and/or the cardiovascular system.
  • An allergic reaction usually occurs within 20 minutes to two hours of eating even a small amount of the food, and can rapidly become life threatening.


  • Food allergy now affects one in 10 infants and about two in 100 adults in Australia.
  • Some children may outgrow their allergy, however some adults develop their food allergy later in life after eating the food without a problem for many years.
  • The severity of an allergic reaction can be unpredictable.
  • There are more than 170 foods known to have triggered severe allergic reactions. The most common triggers, causing 90 percent of allergic reactions in Australians are egg, cow’s milk, peanut, tree nuts (such as cashew and almond), sesame, soy, wheat, fish and shellfish. Some lesser known triggers also include kiwi fruit, banana, chicken, mustard and celery.
  • Children often outgrow cow’s milk, egg, soy and wheat allergies during childhood. Common life-long allergies include peanuts, tree nuts, sesame and seafood.
  • It is important to understand that in some people even very small amounts of food can cause a life-threatening allergic reaction/anaphylaxis. 
  • Food allergy is the leading cause of anaphylaxis outside the hospital setting. It is thought that approximately 10 people die from anaphylaxis each year in Australia and some of these reactions are triggered by food. 
  • Currently, there is no cure for food allergy.
  • When a severe reaction does occur, adrenaline (epinephrine) is the first line treatment for severe allergic reactions and can be administered via an adrenaline (epinephrine) autoinjector called the EpiPen®. EpiPen® is currently the only available adrenaline autoinjector in Australia.

Other causes of anaphylaxis include:

  • Bites and stings
    Bee, wasp and jack jumper ant stings are the most common triggers of anaphylaxis to insect stings. Ticks, green ants and fire ants can also trigger anaphylaxis in susceptible individuals.
  • Medication
    Medications, both over the counter and prescribed, can cause life threatening allergic reactions. Individuals can also have anaphylactic reactions to herbal or ‘alternative’ medicines.
  • Other
    Other triggers, such as latex or exercise-induced anaphylaxis are less common. Occasionally the trigger cannot be identified, despite extensive investigation.

How to avoid a reaction

  • Avoidance of the food trigger is crucial. Individuals at risk and their carers must read food labels of every food they put to their mouth. If a product is not packaged, they must enquire about ingredients and the risk of the food coming into contact with the food they are allergic to.
  • Food ingredient labels need to be read every time a product is purchased, because recipes change without warning. If there is no label on a food and you cannot access information about content, do not eat it.
  • Most importantly, see an allergy specialist and have your condition properly diagnosed. Everyday management means you have to be vigilant.

More Information

To read the full article click here.

Further Questions?

If you have further questions, we recommend speaking to a healthcare professional. 
Use to easily find an appropriate healthcare provider near you.

Sourced from Food Allergy Aware
16 May 2016

Sourced from
Food Allergy Aware

16 May 2016

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