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Food Allergies

What are food Allergies?

Food allergies describe an immunologically produced overreaction of the body to an ingested substance that is normally harmless to most people. This substance is called an allergen, and often, people inherit a tendency toward allergic sensitivity.

Symptoms

Photo of assorted food linked to common allergies, including eggs, shelfish, peanuts, milk, milk, kiwis, walnuts, pistachios and strawberriesSymptoms include hives, itching, trouble breathing, congestion, swelling face, throat, tongue, lips, or another part of the body, abdominal pain, nausea, and dizziness. Symptoms may occur in almost all organs of the body, including the inner, middle, and outer ear.

Some examples are:

Outer Ear

Chronic itching or frequent infections of the ear canal may be due to allergy.

Middle Ear

Repeated ear infections and long-standing fluid behind the eardrum may be a result of an underlying allergy. Both of these are more common in children. Children who require more than one set of PE tubes for recurrent ear infections or fluid are more likely to have an allergy than those who only require one set.

Inner Ear

Meniere’s disease in one or both ears may sometimes be aggravated by allergies. Allergy may also play a role in “dizziness” that is not specifically spinning vertigo, and migrainous vertigo.

Common Food Allergens

Common foods that are eaten frequently are often those that cause symptoms of food allergies. Common allergens include wheat, corn, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, soybean, shellfish, and dairy. Non-food substances may cause inflammation resulting in similar symptoms. Those would include chemicals such as food preservatives.

Diagnosis

Traditional skin and blood testing used for environmental allergens are less accurate when it comes to food. Immune and other adverse reactions to food are more complex than inhalant allergy and can arouse different immune system responses. Currently, there is no one universally accurate test to diagnose a food allergy. Skin and blood testing are still usually done for diagnosis, but to be certain about an underlying allergic reaction, elimination diets and challenge tests may be necessary.

Elimination Diets involve eliminating, usually temporarily, the foods to which an individual is allergic to both improve symptoms as well as to possibly develop immune tolerance to the food(s). The first step is to completely remove the suspicious food for a period of time, which may be days to months, depending on history and allergy test results. A challenge test, below, is then done to see if an individual has developed tolerance to the food and can add it back into the diet. It is important that, once an individual develops a tolerance to a food, they don’t eat it daily, but rotate it back into the diet. Often, it is advisable to ingest the food no more frequently than every 4 days to keep tolerance to the food.

Challenge Tests are not usually done in the case of possible severe allergic reactions to a suspected food. A challenge test is done by eliminating a food several days from the diet, or after an elimination diet, and then eating a pure form of the food to see if symptoms are produced. If they are produced, the food will need to be eliminated for a longer period of time to see whether immune tolerance occurs or not. If the food no longer causes symptoms when challenged, it can generally be added back into the diet, although should not be eaten on a daily basis to keep in the tolerant state.

Treatments

Elimination diets often allow the body to lessen its sensitivity to food. It is also important to vary the foods in a diet to prevent new allergies from developing. Some people will not lose their sensitivity, even after elimination diets, and must continue to avoid eating the food.

Tips & Prevention

Severe food allergies that cannot be treated by elimination diets and challenge tests can still be managed with a combination of the following tips below.

Know what you’re ingesting by reading food labels carefully and paying attention while eating.

Talk to your doctor about emergency epinephrine that can be carried in case of a severe allergic reaction.

Be careful at restaurants. Inform a server or chef of a food allergy and ensure that food isn’t prepared on surfaces or pans that have come in contact with an allergen.

Plan meals before leaving home to ensure there is enough allergen-free food available for the day.

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