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Food Allergy

A food allergy can cause a serious or life-threatening allergic reaction called anaphylaxis.

The most common causes of food allergy are peanuts, tree nuts, eggs, milk, and seafood.

What are the symptoms of anaphylaxis?

Symptoms usually begin within 5-60 minutes and include:

  • Flushed face, hives or a rash, red and itchy skin

  • Swelling of the eyes, face, lips, tongue and throat, trouble swallowing

  • A tight feeling in the chest, trouble breathing or speaking cough

  • Cramps, diarrhea, vomiting

  • Rapid heartbeat

  • Anxiety, distress, feeling faint, sense of doom

  • Loss of consciousness

Symptoms of anaphylaxis can be worse if you have uncontrolled asthma or other health problems

such as lung or cardiac disease.

You can have different symptoms each time you are exposed.

If your first reaction was mild, that does not mean the next one will be.

What are the treatments for food allergy?

Currently there is no cure for food allergy. The only option is complete avoidance of the specific allergen.

Make sure you read labels carefully and inform food service workers and friends when you are eating away from home.

A MedicAlert bracelet can identify you as an allergic person in a case where you are unable.  

If you have an anaphylactic reaction, epinephrine is the ONLY medication that optimally treats it. If you have a severe allergy, you must carry an epinephrine autoinjector (such as an EpiPen) at all times and be familiar with how to administer it.

You can read more about anaphylaxis here.

Food Desensitization

Although milk and egg allergy are the two most common causes of food allergy, most children will outgrow it. Many children with allergies to egg or milk can eat it without reacting when it is baked in a cake. This can reduce the amount of restriction needed in their diet and improve their chances of outgrowing it.

Your allergist can provide you with information on the safety of feeding baked egg or milk to your child. Many allergists will feed this to your child for the first time in their office where they can be supervised and treated if they have a reaction.

This should NEVER be attempted at home without consulting your allergist.

Up and Coming Treatments

The biggest area of research in the world of food allergy is in peanut desensitization. This includes oral methods and a "peanut patch" that is applied to the skin. Some Canadian centres, including McMaster University, are involved in these studies.

While early results are promising, the safety of these types of treatments still need to be established. Most allergists are not offering this treatment yet. 


Peanut desensitization is investigational and should NEVER be tried at home.

Illustrations used with permission. Provided courtesy of EBME inc. and WikiHow

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