An allergy happens when the defensive mechanisms of your body overreact to exposure to specific material, perceive it as an invader, and deploy chemicals to protect against it.

Allergy to food is a reaction of the immune system that occurs shortly after consuming a certain food. Even a small amount of the food that causes allergies can trigger signs and symptoms such as digestive problems, hives, and swollen airways. People with food allergy have an immune system that reacts to certain food proteins. These compounds are targeted by their immune system as though they were hazardous microbe, such as a virus or bacteria.

The working mechanism of Allergies

Allergies to food combine two components of the immune system. One is immunoglobulin E (IgE), a type of protein that passes through the blood called an antibody. The other is mast cells that you have in all body tissues, but in areas like your nose, mouth, lungs, skin, and digestive tract, particularly.

Some cells make loads of IgE for the component of the food that causes your reaction, called an allergen, the first time you eat a food you’re allergic to. The IgE is released and binds to the mast cell surface. You’re not going to have a reaction yet, but you’re headed to one now. The allergen interacts with the IgE the next time you eat the food and causes an allergic reaction.

Food Allergy vs Food Intolerance

Confusing a food allergy with a much commoner reaction known as food intolerance is easy. Although irritating, food intolerance is a less serious condition that does not involve the immune system. Most of the time digestion of food is a major issue. To be allergic to milk, for example, is different from not being able to properly digest it due to lactose intolerance.

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Food intolerance or reaction to another substance that you ate can cause the same signs and symptoms as a food allergy, such as nausea, vomiting, cramping, and diarrhea. You may be able to eat small amounts of problematic foods without a reaction, depending on the type of food intolerance you have. On the other hand, If you have a true allergy to food, even a small amount of food will cause an allergic reaction.

Common Symptoms of Food Allergy

Symptoms can vary from mild to serious and have different impacts on each person. Not everybody will experience all of the things below and each reaction can be slightly different, but typical signs and symptoms include:

  • Vomiting and/or stomach cramps
  • Shortness of breath
  • Repetitive cough
  • Shock or circulatory collapse
  • Tight, hoarse throat; trouble swallowing
  • Weak pulse
  • Pale or blue coloring of the skin
  • Anaphylaxis, a potentially life-threatening reaction that can impair breathing and send the body into shock;
  • Tingling or itching in the mouth
  • Hives, itching, or eczema
  • Swelling of the lips, face, tongue, and throat or other parts of the body
  • Wheezing, nasal congestion, or trouble breathing
  • Abdominal pain, diarrhea or nausea
  • Dizziness, lightheartedness, or fainting
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