Pages Navigation Menu

Food allergy education, advocacy, and support

What is Food Allergy?

What is a food allergy?

Food allergy occurs when the immune system mistakenly attacks a food protein. Ingestion of
the offending food may trigger the sudden release of chemicals, including histamine, resulting in
symptoms of an allergic reaction. The symptoms may be mild (rashes, hives, itching, swelling, etc.) or
severe (trouble breathing, wheezing, loss of consciousness, etc.). A food allergy can be potentially
fatal. Scientists estimate that approximately 12 million Americans suffer from food allergies. (Food
Allergy & Anaphylaxis Network)


What is the difference between food allergy and food intolerance?

Many people think the terms food allergy and food intolerance mean the same thing; however, they
do not. Food intolerance usually refers to a condition that is not immediately life-threatening.
Common examples are lactose intolerance and gluten intolerance.

In lactose intolerance, lactose is not digested properly due to a lack of the enzyme needed for the
proper breakdown of this milk sugar. Gluten intolerance refers to digestive and other problems with
gluten, a storage protein found in wheat, barley, and rye. Gluten intolerance is used loosely to refer
to people who have the diagnosis of Celiac Disease (an autoimmune intestinal disease) and others
with less specific unacceptable responses to gluten.

A food allergy occurs when the immune system reacts to a certain food protein. The most common
form of an immune system reaction occurs when the body creates immunoglobulin E (IgE) antibodies
to the food. When these IgE antibodies react with the food protein, histamine and other chemicals
(called “mediators”) are released, causing hives, asthma, or other symptoms of an allergic reaction.
(Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Network)


Food Allergy Causes and Symptoms   Food Allergy Treatment