Food allergens: Demystifying allergic reactions and learning how to manage them

[Article updated on 19/09/2023]

THE food allergy are increasingly common in our society, and can sometimes cause severe or even fatal reactions. It is therefore essential to understand these allergies to know how to react if you or one of your loved ones is affected. In this article, I’ll review the different types of food allergens, the symptoms they can cause, and what you can do to manage them.

Before reading on

I’m not an expert in this field, but I am passionate about nutrition and health.

The articles you’ll find on my site are the result of in-depth research that I’d like to share with you. However, I would like to stress that I am not a health professional and that my advice should in no way replace that of a qualified physician. I’m here to guide you, but it’s important that you consult a professional for specific questions or medical concerns. Your well-being is important. So be sure to consult the appropriate experts and take the best possible care of yourself.

What is a food allergy?

A food allergy is an immune system reaction that occurs after ingesting a food containing a substance (the allergen) to which the body is hypersensitive. The proteins present in the food are perceived as a threat by the immune system, which then triggers an inflammatory response to eliminate the allergen. This reaction can lead to various respiratory, skin and digestive symptoms, depending on the severity of the allergy.

Common food allergens

There are many potential food allergens, but some are more common than others. Among the foods most often involved in allergic reactions are:

  • Peanuts
  • Milk
  • Eggs
  • Seafood (fish, crustaceans and molluscs)
  • Nuts (almonds, cashews, Brazil nuts, etc.)
  • Wheat
  • Soy
  • The mustard

These foods are often called “”major allergens“”, because they represent approximately 90% of food allergies. However, it is important to note that other less common foods can also cause allergic reactions in some people.


Symptoms of food allergies

Symptoms of a food allergy vary depending on severity and individual sensitivity. They can appear a few minutes to a few hours after ingestion of the allergenic food.

Respiratory symptoms

Respiratory symptoms may include:

  • Sneezing and runny nose
  • Tight throat and hoarse voice
  • Coughing and wheezing
  • Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath

Skin symptoms

Skin symptoms include:

  • Redness and itching of the skin
  • Rash (urticaria)
  • Swelling of the face, lips or eyelids

Digestive symptoms

Digestive symptoms can manifest in the form of:

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Abdominal pain and cramps
  • Diarrhea or constipation
seafood and marine foods on a board

Diagnosis and treatment of food allergies

If you suspect a food allergy, it is essential to consult a doctor or allergist for an accurate diagnosis. This may involve skin tests, blood tests, or elimination and food challenge tests.

The main treatment for food allergies is to avoid the offending food. It is important to read food labels carefully and ask questions about ingredients when preparing meals at home or in a restaurant. In some cases, the doctor may also prescribe a medicine called epinephrine (adrenaline) in the form of an auto-injector (pen), which should be used in the event of a severe allergic or anaphylactic reaction.

Managing allergic reactions and emergencies

In the event of a moderate to severe allergic reaction, it is crucial to act quickly to prevent complications. Here are some steps to take:

  1. Immediately remove the allergenic food from the mouth or hands
  2. Take an oral antihistamine if available and as recommended by the doctor
  3. If breathing becomes difficult, use the prescribed epinephrine auto-injector
  4. Call emergency services (112 in Europe) and report a probable allergic reaction
  5. Lay the person in a stable side position if they feel weak, dizzy or have difficulty breathing

Food allergies are a serious problem that can have life-threatening consequences if not managed properly. It is essential to know common allergens, understand the associated symptoms and know what to do if an allergic reaction occurs.