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Food allergy occurs when the body’s immune system reacts to an ingredient that is harmless for most people, such as peanuts, tree nuts (e.g. almonds, walnuts, cashews, Brazil nuts), sesame, fish, shellfish, dairy products and eggs. The food that causes the response is known as an allergen.
Food allergy is particularly common amongst children.
Anaphylaxis is an extreme and severe allergic reaction. The whole body is affected, often within minutes of exposure to the allergen but sometimes after hours.
Severity varies from person to person and an individual's reaction may vary from one day to the next. Factors influencing severity can include illness, stress and exercise. In some cases symptoms may be caused by a tiny trace of the food.
There are up to 10 recognised deaths from food allergy in the UK every year.
Many people with food allergies also have asthma, which can be triggered or worsened by a reaction to food.
For more information on asthma visit www.asthma.org.uk
What's the difference between food allergy and food intolerance?
Food allergies are generated by the immune system and symptoms usually occur within seconds or minutes of eating the food. Tiny amounts can cause potentially life-threatening allergic reactions, which is why knowledge and communication of ingredients and how the food has been prepared is vital.
Food intolerance is not triggered by the immune system and is generally non life-threatening. Intolerance to food can affect the digestion and common symptoms include digestive discomfort, diarrhoea and bloating. Example: Lactose intolerance.
Coeliac disease is not an allergy or a food intolerance but an autoimmune disease which is triggered by eating gluten from the cereals wheat, rye and barley. Some coeliacs are also sensitive to oats. Coeliac disease is genetic and life-long, although it can be diagnosed at any age.
For more information visit www.coeliac.org.uk
What are people allergic to?
In the UK, the most common food allergies are to eggs, milk, fish, peanuts and tree nuts (such as walnuts, Brazil nuts and almonds). Some people can react to sesame, shellfish, soya, mustard and a range of other foods including fruits. In the UK, kiwi fruit allergy among children is becoming more common.
Many other foods cause problems for a small number of people. Any person who says that that they have a food allergy – whatever the cause – needs to be taken seriously. People with food allergies need to know the ingredients in everything they eat as even tiny amounts could cause severe reactions.
Most serious reactions that occur are triggered by an intended ingredient. In other words, the ingredient was meant to be present but they ate the food without expecting it to be there. In the case of a pre-packed food, they may have neglected to read the ingredient list or there may have been a labelling error by the food company. In the case of catered food, the allergic customer may not have questioned the staff carefully enough, or they may have been misinformed.
Did you Know?
People with food allergies, and those manufacturing or preparing food, need to be aware of the following: