Food Allergy Overview
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A food allergy is an immune-mediated adverse reaction to a particular food. For someone with a food allergy, eating or swallowing even a tiny amount of a particular food can cause symptoms such as skin rash, nausea, vomiting, cramping, and diarrhea. Because the body is reacting to something that is otherwise harmless, this type of allergic reaction is often called a hypersensitivity reaction. Rarely, a severe allergic reaction can cause a life-threatening set of symptoms called anaphylaxis, or anaphylactic shock.
Although about 25% to 30% of people believe they have a food allergy, only about 2.5% of adults and about 6% to 8% of children, mainly younger than 6 years, have true food allergies. The rest have what is known as food intolerance -- an undesirable reaction to a food that does not involve the immune system.
It is easy to confuse food intolerance with food allergy because they can have similar symptoms. With food intolerance, however, a person usually gets only mild symptoms such as an upset stomach.
Jatinder Singh, MD
Mark Clark, MD
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