What Are the Common Food Allergens That You Need to Know About?

Maddie Parker
Published Apr 5, 2024



According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there are about 32 million Americans that suffer from food allergies. This number includes a whopping 6% of all children. The level of severity of reactions varies widely between individuals with some people going into a full-blown anaphylactic reaction with exposure to just a trace amount of the allergen. The uncertainty of these allergic reactions makes it important to take the issue seriously.

Here is what you need to know about the most common food allergens, how to recognize an allergic reaction, and when to seek medical treatment.

 

Most Common Allergens


The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has identified the nine most common food allergens as fish, eggs, milk, tree nuts, peanuts, wheat, crustacean shellfish, soybeans, and sesame. While these allergens are the most prevalent, it is important to note that even the most obscure ingredient or food can trigger an allergic reaction.

The most recent addition to the list is sesame, added by the FDA in January of 2023. These edible seeds can be found hiding in a number of commonly consumed foods, including hummus, sushi, sesame oil, bagels, tahini, hamburger buns, and energy bars.

 

The Biology of an Allergic Reaction


Immune responses to allergens range from barely noticeable to life-threatening. You will experience an allergic reaction if your body has specific antibodies known as IgE to the allergen. The antibodies react quickly once the body makes contact with the allergen. Most allergic reactions happen within 10 to 15 minutes of ingesting the food. The allergic reaction is set off as cells in the body release substances that create the symptoms.

 

Symptoms of an Allergic Reaction to Food


So what are the most commonly reported symptoms of an allergic reaction? This list of symptoms includes a general feeling of malaise. Many people report itching in the mouth and on the surface of the skin. A sudden bout of nausea or vomiting is also a common symptom of exposure to an allergen.

The most severe form of a reaction is known as anaphylaxis. Symptoms of an anaphylactic reaction include difficulty breathing, swelling of the impacted skin, hives, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain, tightness in the throat, low blood pressure, and rapid heartbeat. Severe cases can result in cardiac arrest. In medical terms, anaphylaxis is defined as the involvement of two organ systems in the reaction.

A person experiencing an anaphylactic reaction will need to be injected with epinephrine to stop the symptoms from escalating. It is vital to call for emergency help if you do not have an EpiPen available for immediate use.

 

How to Avoid Allergens


Anyone who suffers from a food allergy will tell you that it can often be difficult to avoid the trigger. Cross contamination is typically the most hidden danger. Another risk for those particularly sensitive is aerosolized or indirect contact with other people consuming the allergen in close proximity.

The FDA mandates that food companies label their products listing the nine most common allergens. This includes indicating if there is a danger of cross contamination. A label indicating "traces of" or "may contain" could mean that the allergens are produced on the same machinery as the product you are purchasing. Many allergy sufferers find it helpful to call the company directly to determine the specific risk.

 

Testing for Food Allergies


There are a few different techniques used by doctors to test for food allergies. The most popular technique is to do a skin patch test, placing a small amount of the allergen onto the patient's skin and pricking the surface to encourage deeper contact. The health care provider will look for any signs of reaction, including redness, itching, or swelling. While this is a good way to determine a specific allergen, it does not indicate the severity of the particular response.

Doctors may also choose to use blood work to investigate the body's immune response to certain foods. The blood work can measure the antibodies related to the allergy to provide answers.



Navigating the world of food allergens can be a tricky endeavor. However, a little research and understanding can go a long way in helping to avoid these allergens and stay safe and comfortable.
 

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