How do I know it's a food allergy?

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Studies show there have been a significant increase in food allergies, yet there are skeptics who believe the numbers are wrong. Some studies are based on surveys with no proof of any actual food allergy diagnosis. Individuals often can confuse food dislikes and intolerances with food allergies. So what exactly is a food allergy and how do you know if you really have one?

A food allergy is defined as an immune system response or reaction to a foreign antigen—ie: food protein. In food allergic individuals, the body deems the harmless food protein an invader and prepares the body to attack by producing antibodies. As part of this immune system response, histamines are also produced.

Histamines are released from mast cells and stimulate gastric secretion that causes the dilation of capillaries, constriction of bronchial smooth muscle, and decreased blood pressure—typical symptoms of an allergic reaction. In severe cases the effects of histamines lead to exaggerated responses like anaphylaxis.

Common symptoms of food allergy are swelling of the lips or tongue, itching lips, stomach cramps, vomiting, diarrhea, skin hives, rashes, or eczema, and wheezing or breathing trouble. Symptoms of anaphylaxis include swelling of the mouth or throat, difficulty breathing, drop in blood pressure, and loss of consciousness.

If you've exhibited any of the above symptoms upon eating a food you should speak with an allergist. The next step would be allergy testing to determine if you are definitely allergic.