You often hear people say that they can’t have a certain food or that they are allergic. But what exactly is a food allergy and is it something you could have?

Before you can figure out what food allergies are, you need to know what an allergic reaction is. Our bodies are constantly defending us against harmful bacteria, viruses, and other things that could make us sick or kill us. Our immune system is designed to target and attack harmful things in the environment. Without it, the simplest infection would go unchecked and likely kill us.

The problem for people with allergies is that the immune system is overzealous and attacks things that really aren’t harmful at all, like pollen, pet dander, or food. When these things enter our body, it attacks them, making us think we are sick. While most allergies just make us feel bad, others can be dangerous and even life-threatening.

Food allergies are almost always a reaction to proteins in the food we eat. All or one part of your body recognizes the allergen as harmful and attempts to correct the problem. These reactions can be sudden and severe, or start slowly and develop over hours or days. In some cases, the reaction can follow the food through the digestive tract, reacting with the mouth first, then the stomach, then the intestines and so on.

What most people don’t realize is that just because you have a negative reaction to food, doesn’t mean you’re allergic to it. Many times, these reactions are triggered by a digestive disorder or an inability to digest a specific food. While these responses can be painful or annoying, they are not immune responses. You should see a doctor for any reaction since these disorders are treated very differently than allergic reactions.

What’s really important about food allergies is not only how severe the reaction can be, but also how little of the substance it takes to trigger a reaction. People with severe nut allergies, for instance, don’t have to eat a lot of nuts to have a reaction. In fact, they don’t have to actually eat them at all. They can have reactions to foods that are prepared in the same room as nuts, by handling nuts, or even just from the smell of them.

Most food allergies develop in children and may or may not go away as they get older, but this usually depends on what they are allergic to. However, allergies can develop and go away at any age and certain allergies can even go away and reappear later in life.

If you think you have a food allergy, see a doctor to help determine if that is really the problem or if you have another issue. They will likely perform skin tests and possibly blood tests and recommend treatment, which usually includes avoidance and an emergency plan if you are accidentally exposed.

While food allergies can be very dangerous, reactions are generally avoidable or treatable. If you take the right precautions, you can live a normal healthy life with the foods you love.

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