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About one in four people think that they are allergic to certain foods. In fact, only about 4 percent of persons age 5 and older actually have a food allergy.
In a true food allergy, your body's defense system, called the immune system, reacts to a certain food or food component as if it were a harmful substance. Symptoms of an allergic reaction to a food usually develop within a few minutes to an hour after eating the food.
For some people, an allergic reaction to a food is uncomfortable but not serious. For others, an allergic food reaction can lead to death. A life-threatening reaction caused by allergy is called anaphylaxis (an-uh-fuh-LAK-suhss). Symptoms of anaphylaxis include:
If you or someone you know is having these symptoms after eating something, call 9-1-1 right away. Anaphylaxis needs emergency treatment with a medicine called epinephrine (ep-uh-NEF-rin).
In adults, the foods that most often cause allergic reactions include:
Other medical problems can have some of the same symptoms as a food allergy, such as:
If you have food allergy symptoms shortly after eating, see a doctor or allergist. If possible, see your doctor when the allergic reaction is occurring. This will help your doctor diagnose your problem.
The best treatment for a food allergy is to avoid eating the foods that cause your symptoms. This may require reading the ingredients on food labels to make sure that the foods don't contain anything that might cause you to have symptoms.
If you have anaphylactic reactions to certain foods, your doctor may give you a prescription for injectable epinephrine. You need to carry this medicine with you at all times so that you or someone you're with can give you an emergency injection if needed.
Content last updated: June 17, 2008.