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Food Allergy

On this page you will find information about all kinds of food allergy, including nut allergy, egg allergy, milk allergy and allergy to sesame and other seeds. You can also find information about lactose intolerance, reactions to wheat and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). We have factsheets available to help you work out whether you have a food allergy or intolerance and we can also provide support when it comes to identifying your food intolerance. You can find all of our factsheets at the bottom of this page.

What is Food Allergy?

Food allergy is caused when the body mistakenly makes an antibody (IgE) to 'fight off' a specific food. When the food is next eaten (or sometimes is just in contact with the skin) it triggers an immune system response which results in the release of histamine and other substances in the body.

These cause various symptoms, depending on where in the body they are released. Very rarely the immune system chemicals are released throughout the body, causing a 'systemic' reaction (such as anaphylaxis).

What Could I Be Allergic To?

You can be allergic to any food substance. Some of the more common food allergies are peanut allergy; tree nut allergy; egg allergy; milk allergy (dairy allergy); wheat allergy; fish allergy; soya allergy and sesame allergy. Some people also suffer from alcohol allergy, mustard allergy and fruit and veg allergy.

What Are the Symptoms of Food Allergy?

Normally food allergy symptoms appear within a few minutes of eating the offending food, although they may be delayed by up to a couple of hours. The symptoms are usually those of 'classic' allergy, some of which are listed below:

Gut reactions:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhoea;

Skin reactions:

  • Itching
  • Swelling (rash or nettle rash)

Respiratory reactions:

  • Runny nose
  • Sneezing
  • Wheeze
  • Cough

At the bottom of this page you will find our downloadable Food and Symptoms Diary. Use this to track your symptoms to discuss with your GP.

What Is the Difference Between Food Allergy and Intolerance?

Food allergy is quite uncommon and normally causes symptoms within a few minutes of eating the offending food or being in contact with the relevant substance. Food intolerance (non-allergic hypersensitivity) is much more common. The onset of symptoms is usually slower and may be delayed by many hours after eating the offending food; the symptoms may also last for many hours, even into the next day. Some common food intolerances include lactose intolerance; yeast intolerance and histamine intolerance.

You can find more information about the differences in our downloadable Food Allergy or Food Intolerance? Factsheet.

Food Allergy at a Restaurant

What Are the Top 14 Food Allergens in the UK?

There are 14 major allergens which need to be mentioned (either on a label or through provided information such as menus) when they are used as ingredients in a food product or meal. 

The top 14 allergens are: Celery; Cereals containing gluten; Crustaceans; Eggs; Fish; Lupin; Milk; Molluscs; Mustard; Nuts; Peanuts; Sesame seeds; Soya and Sulphur dioxide (sometimes known as sulphites).

If you are travelling abroad with a food allergy, then you may want to use our Translation Card service for peace of mind when eating out. Click here for more information.

How Can I Manage Food Allergy?

You can find a whole host of useful tips on management and avoidance on our relevant factsheets below but there are 3 key things to be on top of when it comes to managing a food allergy:

  1. Identify and avoid the cause (if possible)
  2. Recognise the symptoms of an allergic reaction by keeping a food diary
  3. Know what to do if it happens again

For more detailed information about food allergy, allergy medications, or for more useful tips on management and advice on shopping and cooking for a restricted diet, please find further useful resources below…

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