Food allergies can crop up in all kinds of ways – from a rash or hives to a swollen face. If you are especially allergic, they might even cause breathlessness and loss of consciousness.
The most typical allergic reactions to food include:1 2
- Rashes on the skin
- Hives (itchy raised skin)
- Itchiness in the mouth, throat, or ears
- Swelling in the face, particularly the area around the eyes, lips, roof of the mouth, and tongue
- Abdominal pain
Thankfully, there are ways for you to cope with these allergic symptoms and even prevent them from striking in the first place. Just about 4% of all adults have allergies to foods. Many who start out with food allergies as young children outgrow them as early as kindergarten. This is especially true of allergies to foods like wheat, eggs, soy, and milk.3 Unfortunately, many of the allergies you develop or discover as an adult will be with you for a lifetime. That’s where an accurate diagnosis and some careful planning can really help.
The most common food allergens include:4
You could work with a doctor to see if the trigger is a certain make or brand of a food, or even a particular kind of food within a broader category – for instance, shellfish if you have a seafood allergy.
- Fish and shellfish
- Tree nuts (walnuts, almonds, hazelnuts, Brazil nuts)
If you suspect a food allergy, your first step should involve pinning down what exactly is causing your allergy. This could be done via a skin prick test, a blood test, an oral food challenge, or these in combination with the elimination diet. All of these must be undertaken only under the guidance of a doctor.5 Once you’ve confirmed the cause for your allergy, here are some steps you can put in place:
1. Cook The Food
Certain allergies are the result of what’s known as oral allergy syndrome. In this case, you are not actually allergic to the food itself but to proteins in it that may closely resemble a pollen you may be allergic to. Here are some typical pollen allergies that extend to certain foods:6
With oral allergy syndrome, antihistamines that help with a pollen allergy may also be useful to ease the reaction to the food.7
- Birch tree pollen→ Apple, pear, plum, kiwi, peach, cherry, carrot, almonds, walnuts, fennel, celery, and parsley
- Ragweed→ Watermelon, honeydew, cantaloupe, zucchini, cucumber, and banana
- Grasses→ Oranges, melons, and tomatoes
If you cook a vegetable or fruit, it alters the structure of the proteins and this could make them unrecognizable by your immune system, allowing you to consume them without the adverse reactions you get with the raw food. So swap out that raw banana with fritters or stewed bananas, have your apples in apple crumble or cooked down into apple sauce, and roast off those carrots in your salad or sides.
2. Take Probiotics And Prebiotics
Apple cider vinegar (ACV) is a great prebiotic that supports the growth of good bacteria in your gut and boosts your immune system, allowing you to better cope with potentially problematic foods.8
Probiotic and prebiotic foods can help improve your gut health and immune strength overall. So stock up on fermented foods like kimchi and sauerkraut and probiotic yogurt for improved immune strength to help your body cope better with potential allergens.9 For instance, the Lactobacillus strains of probiotics found in yogurt can improve mucosal immune function. This is relevant if your allergy causes problems in the respiratory system (like sneezing or coughing) and the intestinal mucosal membranes (like digestive problems).10 So if your allergies are causing gastrointestinal or respiratory symptoms, this could help.
3. Have Anti-Inflammatory Foods
When your body is persistently exposed to allergy-causing foods, it can result in chronic allergic inflammation.11 Anti-inflammatory foods can reduce the inflammatory stress your body experiences from consuming allergenic foods. Here are some foods to consider including in your diet, unless of course, you are allergic to any of them.
Some anti-inflammatory foods like garlic can also boost your immunity, which makes them doubly good for you.12
- Green leafy vegetables16
- Bitter melon17[
- Olive oil18
- Purple sweet potatoes19
- Pomegranate juice20
- Fatty fish22
4. Use Eucalyptus Oil To Ease Congestion And Boost Immune System
Eucalyptus oil is known to help ease congestion, acting as an expectorant. This helps open up your sinuses and lungs that may be clogged with mucus, enabling you to breathe easy. It stimulates your immune system and is also an analgesic, easing pain from allergic symptoms like wheezing.23 Simply apply to the temples and chest or use in steam inhalation devices.
5. Use Tea Tree Oil To Ease Itchiness From Hives And Quell Inflammation
You can also use tea tree oil diluted in a carrier oil as a topical remedy for relief from itchiness due to rashes or hives from the allergy. It is believed to reduce the hypersensitivity of the skin. It can also help modulate vasodilation or the widening of blood vessels in response to inflammation from histamines. Histamines are chemicals your body produces in response to exposure to a food allergen. Designed to purge your body of the offending substance, they can cause you to break out in a rash, sneeze, or tear up. Tea tree oil can soothe the inflammation caused in the presence of these histamines, calming the symptoms.24
6. Use A Neti Pot To Deal With Respiratory Symptoms
Nasal irrigation done with the help of a device known as a neti pot is becoming increasingly popular for treating not just respiratory infections and asthma but also to deal with seasonal allergies. Those with allergic rhinitis could try using a hypertonic saline solution to do nasal irrigation with their neti pot.25 If you experience respiratory symptoms like sneezing from your food allergy, this may help you too.
7. Try Activated Charcoal For Peanut Allergies
While more research is needed on this front, activated charcoal, which has chemical-binding properties, could be useful for people with allergies. As one study found, this form of charcoal has the ability to form complexes with the protein in peanuts, a common food allergen. By doing so, it removes the peanut proteins that bind with immune system antibodies immunoglobulin E and G (IgE and IgG) and are responsible for your allergic symptoms. Researchers suggest that it could be used to slow down or prevent absorption of peanut protein in the gastrointestinal tract of someone with a peanut allergy who may have accidentally ingested the food.
Whether or not it can be used to prevent an allergic reaction altogether remains to be seen and will certainly need further testing before you can safely have it – especially if you have severe reactions to the nut.26
8. Avoid The Foods You Are Allergic To
This might seem like a no-brainer but there’s arguably no better way to avoid allergic reactions than to completely cut off the foods that trigger the reaction. You will need to be on a modified diet that excludes all problem-causing foods for as long as you want to avoid symptoms.27 Your doctor and nutritionist may prescribe vitamins or recommend foods that make up for the absence of nutrients from the food you are allergic to.
If you suspect your allergy may have passed, is seasonal, or linked to where the foods came from or the brand you’re buying, you could try consuming them after a few months or years and watch for reactions – but only if your reactions are not severe. An alternative is to opt for an oral food challenge with variations of the food under the guidance of your doctor.
Researchers have found that elimination diets can especially help those with food allergies resulting in eczema or skin rashes.28 Another study looked at patients with eosinophilic esophagitis, a condition mainly triggered by food allergies, who undertook an elimination diet. As many as 72% of them experienced remission or the absence of symptoms like heartburn, vomiting, and trouble swallowing after going on the diet.29
Don’t Experiment With Home Remedies If You Are Having A Severe Reaction
If you are experiencing signs of a mild to moderate allergic reaction to some food, you may be able to manage the symptoms at home or allow them to settle over a few hours. However, if you experience anaphylaxis, it demands immediate medical attention. Left untended, this medical emergency can even prove fatal, so don’t mess around with home remedies or natural treatments which may take far too long to take effect, by which time it could be too late. So how do you recognize this form of severe reaction? Watch for these signs:30
Anaphylaxis is a severe reaction to food. If you or someone around you is experiencing a severe allergic reaction, that is, you spot signs of anaphylaxis, you must immediately get medical attention. It could prove fatal if not treated quickly.
- Breathing trouble, noisy breathing
- Swelling of the tongue or throat
- Tightness in the throat
- Hoarse voice
- Trouble talking
- Persistent cough
- Fainting/feeling faint
- Floppiness/paleness in young children
Should you notice any of these symptoms, use the emergency epinephrine treatment you have been given by the doctor who diagnosed the allergy. If you haven’t got this handy, rush the person to the emergency room/call for an ambulance informing them of this allergic reaction.31
|↑1||Food allergy. National Health Service.|
|↑2, ↑30||Food allergy. Australasian Society of Clinical Immunology and Allergy.|
|↑3, ↑6, ↑7||Adult food allergies. Harvard Health Publishing.|
|↑4||Food Allergy. U.S. National Library of Medicine.|
|↑5||Diagnosis and Testing. Food Allergy Research and Education.|
|↑8||Gibson, Glenn R., Hollie M. Probert, Jan Van Loo, Robert A. Rastall, and Marcel B. Roberfroid. “Dietary modulation of the human colonic microbiota: updating the concept of prebiotics.” Nutrition research reviews 17, no. 02 (2004): 259-275.|
|↑9||Guarner, Francisco, and Juan-R. Malagelada. “Gut flora in health and disease.” The Lancet 361, no. 9356 (2003): 512-519.|
|↑10||Parvez, S., K. A. Malik, S. Ah Kang, and H‐Y. Kim. “Probiotics and their fermented food products are beneficial for health.” Journal of applied microbiology 100, no. 6 (2006): 1171-1185.|
|↑11||Galli, Stephen J., Mindy Tsai, and Adrian M. Piliponsky. “The development of allergic inflammation.” Nature 454, no. 7203 (2008): 445.|
|↑12||Corzo-Martínez, Marta, Nieves Corzo, and Mar Villamiel. “Biological properties of onions and garlic.” Trends in food science & technology 18, no. 12 (2007): 609-625.|
|↑13||Al-Suhaimi, Ebtesam A., Noorah A. Al-Riziza, and Reham A. Al-Essa. “Physiological and therapeutical roles of ginger and turmeric on endocrine functions.” The American journal of Chinese medicine 39, no. 02 (2011): 215-231.|
|↑14||Rao, Pasupuleti Visweswara, and Siew Hua Gan. “Cinnamon: a multifaceted medicinal plant.” Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine 2014 (2014).|
|↑15||Grzanna, Reinhard, Lars Lindmark, and Carmelita G. Frondoza. “Ginger-an herbal medicinal product with broad anti-inflammatory actions.” Journal of medicinal food 8, no. 2 (2005): 125-132.|
|↑16, ↑22||Foods that fight inflammation. Harvard Health Publications.|
|↑17||Kubola, Jittawan, and Sirithon Siriamornpun. “Phenolic contents and antioxidant activities of bitter gourd (Momordica charantia L.) leaf, stem and fruit fraction extracts in vitro.” Food chemistry 110, no. 4 (2008): 881-890.|
|↑18||Wardhana, Eko E. Surachmanto, and E. A. Datau. “The role of omega-3 fatty acids contained in olive oil on chronic inflammation.” inflammation 11 (2011): 12.|
|↑19||[Wang, Yong-Jian, Yuan-Lin Zheng, Jun Lu, Guo-Qing Chen, Xiao-Hui Wang, Jie Feng, Jie Ruan, Xiao Sun, Chun-Xiang Li, and Qiu-Ju Sun. “Purple sweet potato color suppresses lipopolysaccharide-induced acute inflammatory response in mouse brain.” Neurochemistry international 56, no. 3 (2010): 424-430.]|
|↑20||Asgary, Sedigheh, Amirhossein Sahebkar, Mohammad Reza Afshani, Mahtab Keshvari, Shaghayegh Haghjooyjavanmard, and Mahmoud Rafieian‐Kopaei. “Clinical Evaluation of Blood Pressure Lowering, Endothelial Function Improving, Hypolipidemic and Anti‐Inflammatory Effects of Pomegranate Juice in Hypertensive Subjects.” Phytotherapy Research 28, no. 2 (2014): 193-199.|
|↑21||Nasri, Sima, Mahdieh Anoush, and Narges Khatami. “Evaluation of analgesic and anti-inflammatory effects of fresh onion juice in experimental animals.” African journal of Pharmacy and Pharmacology 6, no. 23 (2012): 1679-1684.|
|↑23||Sadlon, Angela E., and Davis W. Lamson. “Immune-modifying and antimicrobial effects of Eucalyptus oil and simple inhalation devices.” Alternative medicine review 15, no. 1 (2010).|
|↑24||Thomas, Jackson, Christine F. Carson, Greg M. Peterson, Shelley F. Walton, Kate A. Hammer, Mark Naunton, Rachel C. Davey et al. “Therapeutic potential of tea tree oil for scabies.” The American journal of tropical medicine and hygiene 94, no. 2 (2016): 258-266.|
|↑25||Rabago, David P., Emily Guerard, and Don Bukstein. “Nasal irrigation for chronic sinus symptoms in patients with allergic rhinitis, asthma and nasal polyposis: a hypothesis generating study.” WMJ: official publication of the State Medical Society of Wisconsin 107, no. 2 (2008): 69.|
|↑26||Vadas, Peter, and Boris Perelman. “Activated charcoal forms non-IgE binding complexes with peanut proteins.” Journal of allergy and clinical immunology 112, no. 1 (2003): 175-179.|
|↑27||Food Elimination Diet. Food Allergy Research and Education.|
|↑28||Pacor, M. L., P. Peroli, F. Nicolis, L. M. Bambara, S. Givanni, R. Marrocchella, and C. Lunardi. “Eczema and food allergy in the adult.” Recenti progressi in medicina 81, no. 3 (1990): 139-141.|
|↑29||Molina-Infante, Javier, Angel Arias, Jesus Barrio, Joaquín Rodríguez-Sánchez, Marta Sanchez-Cazalilla, and Alfredo J. Lucendo. “Four-food group elimination diet for adult eosinophilic esophagitis: a prospective multicenter study.” Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology 134, no. 5 (2014): 1093-1099.|
|↑31||Allergy Blood Test. U.S. National Library of Medicine.|