What Is a Food Allergy? Symptoms, Types, Treatment

Jenna Hilton
July 10, 2024

Food allergies affect millions of people worldwide. There is no available cure, but timely and accurate diagnosis can significantly reduce the risk of severe side effects and help patients improve their quality of life.

This article explains what a food allergy is, how to recognize symptoms, and how to manage the condition.

what is food allergy and how to treat the condition

‌What is a Food Allergy?

A food allergy is a medical condition in which the patient’s immune system causes mild to severe allergic reactions to certain proteins in foods, mistakenly perceiving them as harmful pathogens.

The U.S. Food Allergan Labeling and Protection Act identifies nine major food allergens:

  • Milk
  • Eggs
  • Peanuts
  • Tree nuts
  • Fish
  • Crustacean shellfish
  • Wheat
  • Soybeans
  • Sesame

These foods trigger 90% of the allergic reactions in people with food allergies. The remaining 10% of food allergy patients react negatively to other foods, such as corn, lentils, chickpeas, rye, oats, garlic, mustard, color additives, sulfites, etc.

What Is the Difference Between Food Allergy and Food Intolerance?

The symptoms of food allergies and intolerances overlap, leading patients to inaccurately self-diagnose.

A food allergy causes more severe and, sometimes, life-threatening reactions, while a food intolerance is typically harmless. Chronic inflammation in people who continue to eat foods they are intolerant to can create skin conditions, such as acne, rosacea, sensitive skin, and premature aging..

Food allergies are characterized by a faster onset of symptoms than a food intolerance, usually within minutes of eating.

Patients with allergies react to even a tiny amount of food, while patients with food intolerance may eat some of the offending food without experiencing adverse effects.

Note: Read our article to find out more about the differences between allergy vs. intolerance.

‌Food Allergy Symptoms

Patients with food allergies experience various symptoms after eating the trigger food, including digestive, cardiovascular, and respiratory difficulties, such as:

  • Hives
  • Skin rash
  • Itching
  • Swelling of the lips, tongue, throat, or face
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Coughing
  • Wheezing
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Abdominal cramps
  • Weak pulse
  • Dizziness
  • Loss of consciousness

The most dangerous allergic reaction is anaphylaxis. It sends a chain of severe reactions in the body, including impaired breathing, a sudden drop in blood pressure, and going into shock. It may lead to coma or death if the patient doesn’t receive an epinephrine (adrenalin) injection in time.

What Happens if You Keep Eating Food You Are Allergic To?

Unlike food intolerances, which allow patients to eat offending foods without risking their lives, a food allergy is life-threatening. Patients who keep eating the foods they are allergic to risk going into anaphylactic shock and dying.

Neither patients nor doctors can predict the severity of future symptoms. A patient can react mildly to a trigger food once but have a fatal experience the next time. That is why people with food allergies must strictly avoid the offending foods.

What Causes a Food Allergy?

A food allergy is caused by a patient’s immune system’s pathological reaction to a dietary component. When the patient is first exposed to that ingredient, the body makes immunoglobulin E (IgE) antibodies as a reaction to the perceived threat. Every other time the patient eats the same food, the antibodies cause allergic reactions.

Health experts recognize several factors that increase the risk of developing a food allergy:

  • Genetics – Patients whose family members have food allergies, hay fever, asthma, or eczema are more likely to suffer from a food allergy.
  • Environmental factors – Passive smoking and pollution increase the risk of developing a food allergy.
  • Diet – Delayed exposure to allergens in infancy and early introduction of solid foods may increase the risk of developing food allergies.
  • Imbalance in gut microbiome – An overly sterile living environment, overuse of antibiotics, and other environmental changes may alter the composition of natural fungi and bacteria in our digestive system, causing an imbalance and damaging the immune system.

Note: Learn more about how a disrupted microbiome causes a hormonal imbalance and how it can affect the immune system.

‌Who Can Have a Food Allergy?

Anyone can have a food allergy from the earliest stages of life to old age. However, it predominantly affects younger children. It is estimated that about 4% of adults and up to 8% of children worldwide have a food allergy.

Many children outgrow the condition by age five, especially those allergic to milk or eggs. Nut and seafood allergies usually remain for life. People can also develop food allergies in adulthood.

Food Allergy Test

To diagnose a food allergy, doctors first perform a physical examination and talk to their patients. They ask questions about the onset of symptoms, their duration and severity, and similar conditions in the patient’s family. They may also order a skin prick test or a blood test.

Skin prick test – The healthcare provider places the potentially offending food extract onto the patient’s skin and makes tiny scratches with a sterile probe to allow the food to penetrate. If the skin swells, itches, and becomes red, it signals a positive result.

Blood test – A small amount of blood is drawn from the patient’s vein and sent to a lab to determine the presence of IgE antibodies.

Positive results don’t necessarily confirm a food allergy. Doctors take into consideration the patient’s self-assessment and potentially order an oral food challenge, in which the patient takes a small amount of the offending food under medical supervision, and doctors observe the reaction.

The negative results of skin and blood tests are generally useful in ruling out an allergy.

How Much Does a Food Allergy Test Cost?

The price of food allergy testing varies depending on the test type, number of test parameters, and whether the patient’s insurance covers it. It ranges from about $50-$60 for a skin prick test to up to several hundred or even thousand dollars for a blood allergy test.

At Vibrant Vitality Clinic, our food sensitivities testing costs $250 and includes a 30-minute evaluation, lab work, and a follow-up to discuss results. It helps establish food intolerances.

‌Food Allergy Treatment

Patients with a food allergy diagnosis must avoid the offending food(s) altogether. This is the only way to prevent severe adverse effects.

Healthcare providers educate patients about the importance of reading food labels and how to do it properly. They also train them how to recognize potential symptoms of anaphylaxis and how to use auto-injectable epinephrine. Patients should always have these injections with them.

Doctors may also prescribe antihistamines and corticosteroids to treat food allergy symptoms. Antihistamines alleviate itching and congestion, and corticosteroids help reduce swelling.

How Long Does a Food Allergy Reaction Last?

The duration of a food allergy reaction can vary from a few minutes to several days, depending on the amount of allergen consumed, the type of reaction, its severity, the patient’s stress level, previous alcohol consumption or medication use, etc. In most cases, the symptoms subside within several hours.

When Should You Call a Doctor?

Call a doctor immediately if you experience severe allergic reactions, including:

  • Difficulty breathing or swallowing
  • Increased heart rate
  • Severe drop in blood pressure
  • Extreme dizziness
  • Worsening of symptoms (e.g., abnormal lip swelling, spreading rash, etc.)


Food allergy is a serious medical condition with possibly fatal consequences. There is no cure, but patients can minimize the risk of symptoms and live long, quality lives if they learn how to avoid allergens.

Seeing an experienced medical professional is the first step to establishing whether your reactions to food are a food intolerance, allergy, or other condition.

Contact our friendly team at Vibrant Vitality Clinic for help.

Jenna Hilton
Jenna Hilton has been a practicing PA since 2009, specializing in Family, Internal Medicine and Medical Aesthetics. She attended Arizona State University where she received her Bachelor's Degree and graduated magna cum laude. She received her Master of Science degree in Physician Assistant Studies from A.T. Still University.

Jenna has been injecting neurotoxin and dermal filler since 2013. She received certification as a Master Injector in 2017 through Empire Medical in Los Angeles, California. She is currently working on a Fellowship Program in Anti-Aging and Regenerative Medicine through the American Academy of Anti-Aging Medicine. Her special interests include use of PLLA, Ablative/Non ablative skin resurfacing, PDO threads, hormone therapy and nutritional therapies to improve cellular regeneration and medically supervised weight loss.

Jenna Hilton believes in a multi-factorial approach, considering internal factors that accelerate aging and disease development. She always enjoys teaching. She co-founded Vibrant EDU courses at Vibrant Skin Bar and regularly performs one-on-one training with fellow injectors. She teaches Aesthetic and Advanced Injectable Courses at National Laser Institute. She has been named Preceptor of the Year and is an Adjunct Faculty Member at Midwestern University. She was born in Iowa, and lives with her husband and three children in Phoenix, AZ.

Featured Treatment:

Have a Question?

Vibrant Vitality Clinic - Advanced Hormone Replacement. Sexual Regenerative Medicine and Wellness Therapies.
Let's Connect!

Latest Blog Post:

Become a Member:

Search The Website:

Buy  Treatments online:

Connect with us:

4325 E Indian School Rd, Suite 130
Phoenix, AZ 85018
United States

(480) 422-2058

Monday - Friday: 9:00 am - 6:00 pm
Saturday: 9:00 am - 3:00 pm
Sunday: Closed

Follow us on Social media:

Connect With Us:

4325 E Indian School Rd Ste 130, 
Phoenix, AZ 85018

Find More From Us:

Vibrant Skin BarSHOP - Vibrant Skin Bar

Find Us On Map:

linkedin facebook pinterest youtube rss twitter instagram facebook-blank rss-blank linkedin-blank pinterest youtube twitter instagram