What Foods Are High in Allergens?

Reviewed on 6/8/2022

A table spread with plates of foods, including shellfish, pretzels, nut bars, and fruits
The most common food allergens include cow’s milk, eggs, fish, shellfish, tree nuts (e.g., almonds, walnuts, pecans), peanuts, wheat, and soybeans.

Food allergies occur when the body’s immune system sees a substance such as a particular food as a harmful “invader” and overreacts to it. The substances that cause allergic reactions are called allergens, which are what trigger an immune response, also called an allergic reaction.  

8 Most Common Food Allergens

These major food allergens are responsible for 90% of food allergic reactions in the U.S.:

  • Cow’s milk
  • Eggs
  • Fish 
  • Shellfish 
  • Tree nuts (e.g., almonds, walnuts, pecans)
  • Peanuts
  • Wheat
  • Soybeans

Other common food allergens include: 

  • Sesame and other seeds
  • Sulphites
  • Mustard
  • Gluten
  • Celery
  • Aspirin and salicylates 

What Are Symptoms of Food Allergies?

Symptoms of food allergies usually start within minutes of eating a particular trigger food but can occur up to about two hours after eating. Sometimes after the first symptoms go away, a second wave of symptoms returns one to four hours later (biphasic reaction).

Symptoms of food allergies may include: 

  • Stomach cramps
  • Vomiting
  • Hives or red, itchy skin
  • Sneezing 
  • Itchy, watery eyes
  • Stuffy or itchy nose
  • Diarrhea
  • Angioedema or swelling
  • Anaphylaxis
    • This is a severe allergic reaction that is a medical emergency
    • Call 911 and get to a hospital’s emergency department (do not drive yourself) if you experience any of the following symptoms after eating:
      • Chest tightness 
      • Difficulty breathing
      • Tightness in the throat or a lump in the throat
      • Hoarseness
      • Wheezing
      • Tingling in the hands, feet, lips, or scalp

How Are Food Allergies Diagnosed?

Allergies are diagnosed with a medical history and physical examination. 

Tests used to diagnose food allergies may include:

  • Skin prick food allergy test 
  • Blood tests (specific IgE, ImmunoCAP test)
  • Physician-supervised oral food challenge tests 

What Is the Treatment for Food Allergies?

  • The main treatment for food allergies is to avoid the foods that trigger an allergic reaction
  • For mild allergic reactions, antihistamines may relieve symptoms.
  • For people who have severe food allergies and may be prone to anaphylaxis, a doctor will likely prescribe auto-injectable epinephrine to carry at all times in the case of an anaphylactic reaction.


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Reviewed on 6/8/2022
Image source: iStock Images