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
- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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
Medications, both over the
counter and prescribed, can cause life threatening allergic reactions.
Individuals can also have anaphylactic reactions to herbal or ‘alternative’
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
- 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
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Sourced from Food Allergy Aware
16 May 2016