Most of us enjoy peanut butter or seafood without any problem. However, for people with food allergies, eating certain foods can be dangerous and even cause death. Getting all the facts helps everyone enjoy foods safely.
What is a food allergy?
A food allergy is the body’s negative reaction to part of a food that it feels is foreign. For some people, even eating a small amount of this food can cause death. The good news is that allergic reactions can be prevented.
What is anaphylactic shock?
Anaphylactic (a-na-fi-lak-tik) shock is the most serious allergic reaction that can lead to coma and death. It can happen within minutes after eating a specific food. This type of severe reaction affects one to two per cent of the population. Talk to your doctor for more information.
- milk products
- seafoods (fish, shellfish, etc.)
- sesame seeds
- sulphites (food additive)
- tree nuts (almonds, cashews, etc.)
How do I know if I have an allergic reaction to food?
If your body reacts after eating or touching food, you may have a food allergy. The reaction can happen right away or it can take time.
Some common reactions:
- Flushed face, hives or skin rash or red itchy skin
- Swollen eyes, face, lips, throat or tongue
- Trouble breathing, speaking or swallowing
- Wheezing, coughing
- Feeling anxious, weak, “faint” or looking pale
- Stomach pain, cramps, diarrhea or vomiting
Shock or complete collapse (anaphylactic shock) affects one to two per cent of the population. If you have any of these reactions, see your doctor right away. An allergy doctor can help you find out which food has caused the reaction and what you need to do to protect yourself.
What can I do if I have a food allergy?
Once you and your doctor have found out which food is the cause of your allergy, you need to stay away from it. If you are eliminating certain foods, you have to make sure you are getting the nutrients you need.
How can I make sure I stay away from the food that causes my allergy?
It is not always clear if a food has an ingredient that will cause your allergy. A few simple steps can help prevent a reaction.
- Make sure you read food labels carefully to avoid the food allergen (the part of the food that causes an allergic reaction). Some food allergens can be listed under a different name. Contact food manufacturers if you have questions about a food.
- When eating away from home, ask about food ingredients. If you are not sure, do not eat the food.
- Some food allergens can be in a food because of cross contamination. This happens when the food allergen touches another food. For example, when one food scoop is placed into two different food bins without being washed or when two food products are made in the same factory.
- People who have severe food allergies should always carry a special needle called an EpiPen® and should show their friends, family and coworkers how it works.
Other names given for common allergy-causing foods or hidden sources
Reading the ingredients list on food packages will help you to avoid the allergy-causing food. Food companies often change their recipes. Make sure you read the labels every time you shop. If you have questions, call the company.
Foods bought from other countries, through mail or the Internet, are not always made using the same labelling and manufacturing standards as they are in Canada. If you are not sure, do not eat it.
What does it mean when the label says, “May contain peanuts?”
Sometimes food allergens may be in a food product, even though manufacturers try to keep those allergens out. To help people with food allergies stay safe, the Canadian government has allowed manufacturers to label products that may have been in contact with an allergycausing food. When plain chocolate has been made in a factory where other chocolate with nuts is made, “May contain peanuts” will appear on the label to alert people.
What is the difference between food allergy and food intolerance?
Food intolerances can sometimes feel the same as food allergies. For example, people with lactose intolerance or an allergy to milk may both have diarrhea and/or cramps when drinking milk. The difference is: the person with lactose intolerance has difficulty digesting lactose, a sugar found naturally in milk; and the person with an allergy to milk is having a reaction that involves the immune system. To find out if you have an allergy or intolerance, see your doctor.
For more information
- Anaphylaxis Canada: www.anaphylaxis.ca
- Canadian Food Inspection Agency: www.inspection.gc.ca
- EatRight Ontario: 416-325-0510 or 1-877-510-5102
- Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network: www.foodallergy.org
- Health Canada: www.hc-sc.gc.ca
- TeleHealth Ontario: 1-866-797-0000
This information was provided by Toronto Public Health. Information provided on the FoodReach website does not replace any advice given by a doctor and does not provide all of the necessary information regarding your health, nutrition and preventing illnesses.