Food Allergy Awareness Week


Started in 1998 by the Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network, Food Allergy Awareness Week celebrates its 20th anniversary this year. The organization, now called Food Allergy Research and Education (FARE), hosts this awareness campaign in the third week of May each year to highlight just how serious food allergy issues can be for some people.

In addition to increasing awareness of a potentially life-threatening problem, FARE hopes to promote better safety standards, encourage respect for food allergy sufferers, and improve their quality of life. The organization states that approximately 15 million Americans live with food allergies. This includes those who have a risk of developing anaphylaxis, a life-threatening reaction to an allergy trigger. Food Allergy Awareness Week takes place this year from May 13 to 19.

Common Food Allergy Triggers

Some food allergies are rare while others are more common. If you or your child has a food allergy, be sure to read labels carefully and to ask for a list of ingredients when you don’t prepare the food yourself. Symptoms can be mild or severe and include such things as hives or anaphylaxis. The most common foods that cause an allergic reaction include:

Egg: This is the second most common food allergy in children behind milk. The white part of the egg contains a protein that is typically responsible for an allergic reaction. It’s important for anyone with an egg allergy to avoid them completely since separating the white part of an egg from its yoke is often impossible to do.

Fish: According to FARE, 40 percent of people with a fish allergy develop it as an adult. Finned fish, including halibut, salmon, and tuna, are the most common allergy triggers. However, finned fish and shellfish are two different varieties and an allergy to one doesn’t necessarily mean you will have an allergy to the other.

Milk: This is the most common type of food allergy in infants and children under age three. According to FARE, it affects 2.5 million children three and under in the United States. It’s critical to check ingredients on all foods since milk is a primary ingredient in dozens of other foods.

Peanuts: This represents one of the most common food allergies for people of all ages. Peanuts differ from tree nuts in that they grow underground and are part of the legume family. Almonds, cashews, walnuts, and similar products grow on trees. People with peanut allergies have up to a 40 percent greater chance of developing an allergy to tree nuts as well.

Sesame: This type of flowering plant produces seeds suitable for consumption for people not allergic to them. It is a common food ingredient and it appears in many types of flavorings and spices as well.

Shellfish: Shellfish comes in two categories. Crustacea includes crab, lobster, and shrimp while mollusks include clam, mussel, oyster, and scallops. It’s more common to have an allergy to crustacea, which can produce more severe symptoms than other types of food allergies. Anyone with a shellfish allergy should avoid seafood restaurants entirely since there’s no way for the chefs to avoid cross-contamination.

Soy: A member of the legume family, soy is a common allergy of infants and children. The reactions are typically mild, and an allergy to soy doesn’t increase the risk of allergy to other foods in the legume family. Since soy is an ingredient and not a food itself, it’s especially important to know whether it’s in your food before eating it.

Wheat: Children with a wheat allergy often outgrow it by age three, but some people don’t develop it until adulthood. Wheat is the most common form of grain in the United States, which means it’s especially important to ensure it’s not in your food.

Mild to Severe Food Allergy Symptoms

FARE states that someone visits an emergency room every three minutes in the United States for symptoms related to food allergies. Whether you or a family member has this problem, it’s essential that you recognize the symptoms and get prompt help. The symptoms may appear immediately or take up to several hours to produce a reaction. Allergic reactions to food typically affect the gastrointestinal tract, skin, and respiratory system. Severe cases can affect the cardiovascular system.

The following food allergy symptoms fall into the mild-to-moderate range:

  • Diarrhea
  • Dry cough
  • Dry, itchy, and persistent rash known as eczema
  • Hives
  • Nasal congestion
  • Nausea and/or vomiting
  • Red skin, especially around the eyes and mouth
  • Runny nose
  • Sneezing
  • Stomach pain
  • Unusual taste in mouth

The following symptoms are severe and require immediate medical attention:

  • Chest pain
  • Consciousness loss
  • Difficult swallowing
  • Person turns an obvious blue color
  • Swelling of the lips, tongue, or throat that interferes with breathing
  • Weak pulse

Because a combination of mild or severe symptoms can cause anaphylaxis, we at UPMC Western Maryland recommend that anyone with a food allergy carry epinephrine with them at all times. This typically comes in the form of an Epi pen that allows the allergy sufferer or someone else to administer an immediate injection. Immediate action is critical with anaphylaxis since even a minor delay could increase the severity of symptoms or threaten life.

Schedule Food Allergy Testing

If you’re concerned that you or your child could have food allergies, we encourage you to schedule an appointment with your primary care provider at UPMC Western Maryland or your child’s pediatrician. Common treatments for food allergies include avoiding the trigger, medication, and epinephrine. It’s also important to seek support from other food allergy sufferers since living with this condition can be stressful and isolating.

Please note, the information provided throughout this site is not intended or implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. All content, including text, graphics, images, and video, on or available through this website is for general information purposes only. If you are experiencing relating symptoms, please visit your doctor or call 9-1-1 in an emergency.