Food allergy is treated by dietary avoidance. Once a patient and the
patient’s doctor have identified the food to which the patient is
sensitive, the food must be removed from the patient’s diet. To do this,
patients must read lengthy, detailed ingredient lists on each food they
are considering eating. Many allergy-producing foods such as peanuts,
eggs, and milk, appear in foods one normally would not associate them
with. Peanuts, for example, are often used as a protein source and eggs
are used in some salad dressings. The FDA requires ingredients in a food
to appear on its label. People can avoid most of the things to which
they are sensitive if they read food labels carefully and avoid
restaurant-prepared foods that might have ingredients to which they are
In highly allergic people even minuscule amounts of a food allergen (for
example, 1/44,000 of a peanut kernel) can prompt an allergic reaction.
Other less sensitive people may be able to tolerate small amounts of a
food to which they are allergic.
Patients with severe food allergies must be prepared to treat an
inadvertent exposure. Even people who know a lot about what they are
sensitive to occasionally make a mistake. To protect themselves, people
who have had anaphylactic reactions to a food should wear medical alert
bracelets or necklaces stating that they have a food allergy and that
they are subject to severe reactions. Such people should always carry a
syringe of adrenaline (epinephrine), obtained by prescription from their
doctors, and be prepared to self-administer it if they think they are
getting a food allergic reaction. They should then immediately seek
medical help by either calling the rescue squad or by having themselves
transported to an emergency room. Anaphylactic allergic reactions can be
fatal even when they start off with mild symptoms such as a tingling in
the mouth and throat or gastrointestinal discomfort.
Special precautions are warranted with children. Parents and caregivers
must know how to protect children from foods to which the children are
allergic and how to manage the children if they consume a food to which
they are allergic, including the administration of epinephrine. Schools
must have plans in place to address any emergency.
There are several medications that a patient can take to relieve food
allergy symptoms that are not part of an anaphylactic reaction. These
include antihistamines to relieve gastrointestinal symptoms, hives, or
sneezing and a runny nose. Bronchodilators can relieve asthma symptoms.
These medications are taken after people have inadvertently ingested a
food to which they are allergic but are not effective in preventing an
allergic reaction when taken prior to eating the food. No medication in
any form can be taken before eating a certain food that will reliably
prevent an allergic reaction to that food.
There are a few non-approved treatments for food allergies. One involves
injections containing small quantities of the food extracts to which the
patient is allergic. These shots are given on a regular basis for a long
period of time with the aim of “desensitizing” the patient to the food
allergen. Researchers have not yet proven that allergy shots relieve