Strawberries, shellfish, peanuts, tree nuts, eggs and milk are on a table
Some common food allergies in adults and children include peanuts, sesame, egg, fish, gluten/wheat, shellfish, soy, sulfite, and tree nuts.

What Are Some Common Food Allergies?

At some point, nearly everyone experiences a food allergy. You might have an unusual reaction like diarrhea or hives after eating something. In fact, in some cases, the reaction can be very serious.

Statistics show that one in three people have a food allergy; in many cases, the family’s diet must be modified because of a food allergy. However, only five percent of children have a clinically diagnosed allergic reaction to foods. Just four percent of teens and adults have “true” food allergies.

It’s important to pay attention to any reactions to foods in case it’s an allergy. In some cases, it might simply be a food intolerance – not the same thing. Let’s look more deeply into this issue of food allergies vs. food intolerance.

Food Allergy Symptoms

Food allergens are proteins in the food that survive cooking and digestion, and then enter the bloodstream where they travel to various organs – causing an allergic reaction throughout the body.

The digestive process affects the onset of the allergic reaction as well as the location. You might first experience itching in your mouth when you eat the food. Once the food is digested, you will have digestive symptoms like vomiting, diarrhea, or stomach cramps.

As the allergens travel through the bloodstream, you might experience a blood pressure drop. When allergens reach the skin, you might get eczema or hives. When they reach the lungs, you might experience wheezing or other breathing problems. This onslaught of allergy symptoms can happen quickly or up to an hour later.

Range of Reactions

When you have a food allergy, it means your immune system will mistake a food (or a substance in food) as a harmful substance. That triggers your immune system to release an antibody known as immunoglobulin E (IgE) to neutralize the allergy-causing food or food substance (the allergen).

If you eat even a tiny amount of that food later on, IgE antibodies will trigger your immunity to release a chemical called histamine, as well as other chemicals, into your bloodstream. These chemicals cause allergy symptoms.

You might experience a range of symptoms from mild to severe. While the initial reaction might be mild, there may be more severe reactions a little later.

Anaphylaxis is the most severe allergic reaction; it is a life-threatening allergic reaction that affects the entire body. This reaction can impair your breathing, cause a dramatic blood pressure drop, and trigger erratic heart rate.

Anaphylaxis can set in just minutes after eating the food – and can be fatal unless treated immediately with an injection of epinephrine (adrenaline).

9 Common Food Allergies

Some common food allergies include peanuts, sesame, egg, fish, gluten/wheat, shellfish, soy, sulfite, and tree nuts.

1. Peanut Allergy

Peanuts are legumes, not tree nuts. Peanut allergy is considered one of the most severe food allergies. Symptoms of peanut allergic reaction include sneezing, asthma, itchiness, swelling, hives, eczema, abdominal pain, diarrhea, drop in blood pressure, and cardiac arrest – as well as anaphylaxis.

2. Sesame Allergy

Sesame allergies aren’t as well-known as peanut allergies, but the allergic reactions can be just as serious. Allergic reactions to sesame seeds or sesame oil can cause anaphylaxis. Emergency medical attention is essential in response to sesame allergy.

3. Egg Allergy

Egg allergies are very common in children, and symptoms typically occur very quickly or even a few hours after eating eggs or foods containing eggs. The allergic reaction can range from mild to severe, including hives, skin rash, nasal congestion, and digestive problems.

4. Fish Allergy

While many food allergies are observed in childhood, fish allergy may not be obvious until adult years. Scientists say that up to 40 percent of people with a fish allergy didn’t have the allergy until adulthood.

Fish allergy can be very specific; if you are allergic to a finned fish (tuna, salmon, halibut, you won’t necessarily be allergic to shellfish (shrimp, lobster, crab). If you are allergic to a certain fish, your allergist can help you determine whether others are safe to eat.

5. Gluten/Wheat Allergy

Wheat allergy is very common and is an immune response to gluten and other proteins in wheat. This type of food allergy is common in children, and they typically outgrow the allergy by age 12.

However in some, it is a food intolerance. Gluten problems can also be caused by celiac disease, which is neither an allergy nor a food intolerance, but a medical condition affecting the bowel.

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Gluten or wheat is typically present in many common foods, the most notable examples being breads, pastas, and crackers. And it is also possible for gluten or wheat to be present in liquids like chicken broth, malt vinegar, and soy sauce.

Symptoms include diarrhea, nausea and vomiting, irritation of your mouth and throat, hives and rash, nasal congestion, eye irritation, difficulty breathing. The reaction can range from mild to life-threatening and typically start within minutes of consuming wheat – but can be delayed, starting up to two hours later. Severe difficulty breathing (anaphylaxis) can occur.

6. Shellfish Allergy

Shellfish allergy is an allergic response to proteins in certain marine animals. Shellfish include shrimp, crab, oysters, lobster, scallops, and squid.

Some people with shellfish allergy react to all shellfish; others react to only certain kinds. Reactions range from mild symptoms — such as hives or a stuffy nose — to severe and even life-threatening.

7. Soy Allergy

Allergy to soy, produced from soybeans, is a very common food allergy. Soy allergy starts in infancy with reaction to soy-based infant formula. Most children outgrow soy allergy, while some carry the allergy into adulthood.

Hives or mouth itching are the primary symptoms, but in rare cases soy allergy can cause a life-threatening allergic reaction (anaphylaxis).

If you have a soy allergy, it is critical to avoid products that contain soy, which can be difficult. Many foods contain soy, including meats, breakfast cereals, and baked goods.

8. Sulfite Allergy

Sulfites are chemicals that may be natural or added to some foods. Sulfites aren't found in most fresh foods, but they’re still in some cooked and processed ones. And they can also happen naturally in the process of making wine and beer.

If you’re sensitive to them, you should avoid them. Check labels on all food packages. When you eat out, ask your server if sulfites are used in preparation.

9. Tree Nut Allergy

Almonds, cashews, and walnuts, as well as pine nuts and lichee nuts, are popular tree nuts. They are also a serious allergy risk and can cause anaphylaxis. A tree nut allergy usually lasts a lifetime; fewer than 10 percent of people with this allergy outgrow it.

Children may outgrow allergies to eggs, milk, or soy. But allergies to peanuts, fish, or shrimp may last a lifetime.

Food Intolerance vs. Food Allergy

A food intolerance is different from a food allergy. With a food allergy, the immune system is involved in the reaction. A food intolerance does not involve immunity, even though both reactions can have similar symptoms.

Lactose intolerance, for example, is difficulty in digesting milk. That is not a milk allergy.

Lactose intolerance is linked with a deficiency in the lactase enzyme and affects at least one out of ten people. This enzyme is in the gut lining and helps the body process lactose in milk and other dairy products. Without sufficient lactase, the body cannot digest lactose properly. The person has symptoms like cramping, bloating, gas, and diarrhea.

Some people have intolerances to food additives intended to enhance taste or color or protect against bacterial growth. These include yellow dye number 5, monosodium glutamate, and sulfites. These can cause hives, flushing, warmth, headache, facial pressure, chest pain, or dizziness.

Be Aware of Symptoms

If you have reactions to certain foods, talk to your doctor. Allergic reactions can become more serious over time. It’s best to find out exactly what you should do in case of an emergency – like an anaphylactic reaction.