As schools ban peanut butter sandwiches and an increasing number of people learn that they have wheat allergies, it can be scary and a little overwhelming to figure out what to do. According to the Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network (FAAN), "Scientists estimate that as many as 15 million Americans have a food allergy, including approximately 6 million children."
What is a food allergy?
According to the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, a "food allergy is an abnormal response to a food, triggered by the body’s immune system." Basically, the body decides that the food in question is harmful and triggers an allergic reaction as a defense.
Food allergies versus intolerance
There is a difference between an allergy and an intolerance. Basically, an allergy is a response of the immune system, while an intolerance is a reaction of the digestive system. WebMD explains that food intolerance "occurs when something in a food irritates a person's digestive system or when a person is unable to properly digest or breakdown the food." Lactose intolerance is the most well-known example.
How do I know if I have a food allergy?
There are a few ways to tell if you have a food allergy. The first is to have a negative reaction to a food. These can vary dramatically, but typically occur within two hours of ingesting the food and can include "a tingling sensation in the mouth, swelling of the tongue and the throat, difficulty breathing, hives, vomiting, abdominal cramps, diarrhea, drop in blood pressure, loss of consciousness, and even death," says FAAN. The other way is to have a doctor give you a skin prick or blood test to determine if you have an allergy to a particular food.
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What do I do if I have an allergic reaction?
Since allergic reactions vary, so do responses to them. If you have a minor reaction, stop eating any foods you think may have caused it and consider taking an antihistamine. If you have had a reaction before and have an EpiPen or other medication, use it. If you are having a bad reaction and don't have an EpiPen, then immediately call 911. Regardless of whether you have a big or small reaction, visit a medical professional for a follow-up to determine what you are allergic to and what your course of action should be.
How can I prevent allergic reactions?
Once you have visited your doctor and confirmed that you do indeed have an allergy to a particular food, the best way to prevent an allergic reaction is to avoid that food. This can be difficult if it is something you greatly enjoy, but cutting it out from your diet will cause you the least discomfort in the long run. Read package labels to make sure other foods don't contain traces of the one you are allergic to, ask at restaurants and on airplanes and tell your friends before you eat at their houses.
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