Food allergies

While about 6% of children suffer from food allergies, this percentage is only 3 to 4% in adults. In fact, some food allergies tend to disappear with age.

What is an allergy?

In simple terms, an allergy is an exaggerated reaction of the immune system to any product. The immune system identifies the product as potentially dangerous and decides to try to eliminate it by secreting a substance called “histamine”. It is this substance that causes allergy symptoms such as itching, redness or even swelling in the mouth or throat.

Allergic reaction varies from person to person.  For some, the reaction will be mild while for others, the allergy can be fatal (anaphylactic shock).

In the case of food allergies, the product considered potentially dangerous by the immune system is a food.

Allergy or intolerance?

Many people say they are allergic to food when they are just intolerant. In fact, intolerance is a phenomenon that does not involve the immune system. The symptoms of food intolerance are often milder than in the case of allergy. These are often at the digestive level, such as bloating or diarrhea.

What foods are often involved in allergies?

Theoretically, any food can potentially cause an allergy. However, some foods are more often involved than others. In Canada, the following foods are most frequently associated with food allergies:

  • Nuts and peanuts
  • Soybean
  • Milk
  • Wheat
  • Eggs
  • Seafood products
  • Mustard
  • Sulphites

What to do in case of a food allergy?

An allergic person must absolutely avoid contact with the allergen. If contact occurs, it is possible to take an antihistamine for mild reactions.  For more serious reactions, an injection of epinephrine (e.g. Epipen) should be considered. Nevertheless, it is essential after an injection that the person be evaluated by a health professional, even if the symptoms disappear.

It is important to ensure that the epinephrine-based injectable device is stored at an appropriate temperature and under appropriate conditions. A check of the appearance of the injectable solution and the expiry date is also essential. If the solution changes in appearance (e.g. colour change) or if the product has expired, it is essential to purchase a new device.

If you have any questions about food allergies or the epinephrine injection device, talk to your pharmacist!

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