Food Allergy

What is a Food Allergy?

Food allergy can be a life-threatening condition.   Currently up to 15 million Americans have food allergy, including 1 in every 13 children (source: FARE).

Like other allergies, food allergies happen when the body has an overreactive immune reaction to ingestion of a certain food, which normally would be harmless for most individuals.  Usually food allergies develop first in childhood.

How We Can Help. Education & Guidance

We are deeply involved in food allergy from research and evaluation to treatment and long-term care. In fact, many of our physicians sit on food allergy advisory committees and boards within the Seattle area and nationally.

Our clinicians will be happy to review the details of your case and to develop the appropriate plan of action.  Once we help identify offending foods, we can offer lifestyle education to assist you/your child in avoiding exposure and understanding how to recognize and appropriately treat reactions. We will also discuss about the latest research regarding food allergies.

Collection of dairy, eggs, and cheese on a table
Various nuts piles grouped by type artistically
Various seafood on ice on display
Collection of tropical fruits. Some sliced

Signs & Symptoms of Food Allergy

Food allergy reactions can range from mild to severe. Symptoms may include:

  • Abdominal pain

  • Diarrhea

  • Indigestion

  • Nausea

  • Vomiting

  • Hives/Rashes

  • Abdominal cramping

  • Itching

  • Tingling lips

In extreme cases, patients may experience anaphylaxis, which is often characterized by an itchy rash, tongue or throat swelling, shortness of breath, vomiting, lightheadedness, low blood pressure, or a feeling of dread. Its onset may be rapid and can be fatal.


The top eight food allergens are wheat, egg, cow’s milk, soy, peanut, tree nuts, and seafood (fish/shellfish).

No, food allergy can affect various systems (gastrointestinal, skin, respiratory) and can be life-threatening.  In contrast, food intolerance is generally less serious and often limited to digestive issues. For example, lactose intolerance is the ability to digest milk sugar (lactose) and cause bloating and diarrhea.  Supplementation with lactase tablets or ingesting lactose-free dairy products can allow a lactose-intolerance person to ingest dairy. Another example is celiac disease which is an autoimmune disorder and while a serious condition, affected patients do not have anaphylaxis to wheat/gluten.

The truth is: no one really knows for sure! There are a few theories, however:

  1. We may simply be getting better at diagnosing food allergy, and there is certainly more attention on the topic/medical issue than there was in previous generations.
  2. We may have mistakenly delayed food introduction.

For years in the United States, it was recommended to delay introduction of highly allergenic foods such as nuts and seafood. We later learned that countries with the lowest incidence of food allergy were introducing a variety of foods into children’s diets at an earlier age. New studies suggest earlier introduction may help prevent food allergy. All of this leads to the theory that delayed food introduction may have led to a rise in food allergy.

  1.    Our diet may be to blame!

Some believe that the Western diet, which includes more calorie-dense foods, animal fat, and sugar than other places, may be altering gut bacteria. If the gut bacteria are less protective, it may contribute to food allergy development.

Most children outgrow their allergies to cow’s milk, egg, soy, and wheat, even if they have a history of a severe reaction. However, peanut, tree nut, fish, and shellfish allergy tend to persist through adulthood. Repeat allergy testing with your allergist can help you learn when you or your child’s food allergies are resolving with time. The way to determine if the food allergy has resolved is by an oral challenge. Your allergist will determine whether you/your child is a candidate for such a procedure.  An oral challenge is a procedure performed in our clinic in which the particular food is eaten in gradual increasing amounts under medical supervision to accurately diagnose or rule out a food allergy.

Epinephrine autoinjectors (i.e. Epipen, Auvi-Q) is a self-injectable adrenaline shot. It is considered to be the fastest and most effective treatment for anaphylaxis, which is a life-threatening allergic reaction. For patients who have a history of anaphylaxis, food allergy, or insect (bee) sting allergy, your care provider will be able to evaluate whether carrying an epinephrine autoinjector is appropriate for you.