Food allergies are very common, and allergic reactions to food are found in millions of Americans – some reactions may be mild, some severe, and some absolutely life-threatening. Food allergies cannot be cured, and the only way to live with them is to avoid allergens. 

There are eight foods that cause most food allergy reactions – shellfish, milk, fish, soy, tree nuts, eggs, peanuts and wheat. Out of these, peanut is the most common allergen. Allergic reactions often manifest in the form of hives, itching sensation inside the mouth, swelling of the tongue, lips, face, neck or vocal cords, rash or flushed skin, abdominal cramps, diarrhea, vomiting, dizziness, coughing, difficulty in breathing or loss of consciousness. It is possible for someone to be allergic to other food items too, but the most common ones are listed here. 

  • Shellfish – Tropomyosin, a protein found in mollusk and crustracean families of fishes (scallops, squids, prawns, lobster, shrimp, crayfish etc), is what triggers this allergy, often causing reactions like vomiting and diarrhea. Those who have this allergy must avoid shellfish completely. 
  • Cow’s Milk – found often in toddlers, this allergy generally subsides as babies grow up, and is not very common in adults. Swelling, hives and rashes often appear because of this allergy. People with this allergy need to avoid any food that has cow’s milk like, cheese, butter, yoghurt, cream and ice cream. 
  • Fish – fish allergies are often observed in adults, and can cause reactions like diarrhea and vomiting. Reaction to contaminated fish is often similar to fish allergy reaction. 
  • Soy – commonly observed in infants and very young children, soy allergies cause symptoms like itchy mouth, runny nose or breathing troubles. All soy based products must be avoided to stay safe from the proteins in soy that trigger the reactions. 
  • Tree nuts – some nuts and seeds that come from trees (pine nuts, almonds, walnuts, pistachios, and cashews) can cause this allergy. Those who have tree nut allergy are allergic to food products like nut butters and oils made from these nuts as well. Even if someone is allergic to just one or two types of nuts, they must avoid all types of tree nuts. Tree nut allergies cause almost half of anaphylactic deaths
  • Eggs – another common allergy in children, this also often subsides as they grow up. This allergy may cause digestive problems, skin reactions and respiratory complications. The proteins in egg whites are different from those in egg yolks. So some people may be allergic only to egg whites or only egg yolks. 
  • Peanuts – peanut allergies often cause severe reactions, and affect 4-8% of children. The allergy often subsides as children grow up. Avoiding peanuts and peanut containing products is the only way to prevent peanut allergy.  
  • Wheat – the protein in wheat triggers an allergic reaction in the form of vomiting, swelling, rashes, hives or digestive disorders. A diet free of wheat is the only treatment for this allergy. 

In extreme cases, these allergies can cause anaphylaxis. Carrying an epi-pen is imperative in case you inadvertently eat something triggers allergic reactions.