Allergens are a substance found not only in food but also other sources, such as pollen and dust mite excretion, just to name a couple. When an allergen enters the body it can trigger an unnecessarily exaggerated response from the immune system. The immune system has this response to certain allergens because it sees the substance as harmful so it tries to protect the body by creating antibodies. This is known as having an allergic reaction.
An estimated 1-2% of adults in the UK have a food allergy, and around 5-8% of children are affected by food allergens, which is why all major food allergens are required by UK law to be listed on food labels/packaging.
Below, we have put together a list of the most common food allergies that some people suffer with in the UK, along with the effects caused by particular allergens.
Having an allergy to eggs is most common in children, but, usually, an egg allergy will fade once a child reaches adulthood. The allergenic substance is generally found in the egg white; however, people who are allergic to eggs should try to avoid both the egg white and the egg yolk. If a person is having an allergic reaction to an egg, they can have mild to severe symptoms, such as coming out in a rash, vomiting, and/or nasal congestion.
Around 40% of people who are allergic to fish suffer their first reaction as adults. Finned fish, such as salmon and tuna, can cause a person who is allergic to particular proteins in the food to suffer from vomiting or hives. This allergen can also trigger an anaphylactic fit, which is when the body goes into shock, causing the airways to narrow. If not promptly treated, anaphylaxis can be fatal. Signs that someone is suffering with anaphylactic shock include difficulty breathing, vomiting, and skin rashes.
Infants, children, and adults can all suffer with cow’s milk allergy. Some babies/children can tolerate heated milk because the structure of the protein that causes the immune system to react is disrupted under high temperatures. However, heating milk will not prevent a reaction from those with severe cow’s milk allergy. A person having an allergic reaction to cow’s milk can experience any of the following: swelling of the lips and face, vomiting, rashes, diarrhoea or constipation.
Around 60% of people who are allergic to shellfish suffer their first reaction as adults. If a person is allergic to finned fish, this doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll be allergic to shellfish; however, care is advised, particularly when eating out at restaurants since cross-contamination can occur. The two types of shellfish are crustaceans and mollusks. Someone having an allergic reaction to shellfish can experience symptoms within minutes. These symptoms include swelling of the face, tongue, and/or throat, vomiting, coming out in hives, or having trouble breathing.
If someone has a peanut allergy, they don’t usually build a tolerance to it over time, which means they will probably be allergic to peanuts for life. Peanuts grow underground and are part of the legume family. So, since peanuts are not the same as tree nuts, a person who is allergic to the latter will not necessarily have a peanut allergy. If a person is having an allergic reaction to peanuts, they may experience numbness or tingling around the mouth, hives, swelling of the face and throat, vomiting, and/or diarrhoea.
Soybean, or soya bean, is part of the legume family. Although some adults may suffer with a soy allergy, they usually outgrow it earlier in life. This being the case, most soy allergy sufferers are usually infants and children. It is worth noting that people who have a soy allergy are highly likely to be allergic to peanuts. A person having an allergic reaction to soy can experience any of the following: swelling of the lips and face, vomiting, or stomach pain.
Wheat, which is a type of grass, can be found in a variety of foods, such as bread, cereal, cakes, crackers, and pasta. If exposed to wheat, someone who is allergic may have an anaphylactic fit. If not promptly treated, anaphylaxis can be fatal. Signs that someone is suffering with anaphylactic shock include difficulty breathing, vomiting, and skin rashes. A person having an allergic reaction to wheat may also suffer minor cases of the above symptoms as well as stomach pain and/or diarrhoea.
Sesame is being used in more and more food, which has caused a significant increase in people who suffer with a sesame allergy. Sesame seeds can be found in bread, cereal, and hummus. A person having an allergic reaction to sesame can experience any of the following: swelling of the lips and face, vomiting, hives, trouble breathing, and/or stomach pain.
Sulphites can be found in canned foods and frozen fruit and veg. They are used to help maintain the colour in food or to extend shelf life. Someone who is allergic to sulphites may experience mild symptoms, such as coming out in a rash, but in rare cases someone may have an anaphylactic fit.
Triticale is a man-made grain. It is a hybrid cross of wheat and rye which can be found in bread, pasta, yoghurt, and spirits. People who are allergic to wheat may have a similar allergic reaction to triticale, such as coming out in rashes, or, in worse case scenarios, experiencing an anaphylactic fit.
Whether raw or cooked, celery can cause some people to have an allergic reaction. Someone who has a pollen allergy is more likely to be allergic to celery over someone who doesn’t have a pollen allergy. This is because the proteins in pollen are similar to the ones found in celery. If a person is having an allergic reaction to celery, they may come out in a rash or experience numbness/tingling around the mouth. The symptoms that a person with a celery allergy may suffer are known to be more severe than those experienced by people who are allergic to other vegetables.
Barley is a cereal grain that is used in everyday food items such as bread, cereals, stews and some beverages. Barley is a type of grass but it is different to wheat; if you have a wheat allergy, it isn’t necessarily the case that you’ll have a barley allergy. People who are allergic to barley may suffer with shortness of breath, coughing, stomach problems, and, in serious cases, anaphylaxis.
Clams, oysters, mussels, and scallops are all a type of mollusc. Some snails, octopuses, and squid are also considered to be molluscs. Someone who is allergic to molluscs may experience similar symptoms to those who are allergic to shellfish. For example, the symptoms can include swelling of the face, tongue, and/or throat, vomiting, coming out in hives, or having trouble breathing.
Mustard is made from the seeds of a mustard plant. If someone experiences an itchy throat or mouth after having mustard, then they probably suffer from pollen food allergy syndrome. The symptoms for someone suffering an allergic reaction to mustard can often be very serious. A mustard-allergy sufferer may come out in hives, have trouble breathing, feel dizzy, or go into an anaphylactic shock.
The types of nuts that are allergens include walnuts, Brazil nuts, hazelnuts, cashews, pecans, hazelnuts, and pistachios. These are known as tree nuts. A nut allergy is often diagnosed in children, but it is possible to develop a nut allergy later on in life. This is an allergy that very few people grow out of. Someone having an allergic reaction to nuts may experience a tightness in the throat, stomach pain, vomiting, rashes, and/or swelling of the lips.
We hope that you feel a little more informed on the common UK allergies that both children and adults can suffer with. Please note, all of the symptoms that can be caused by each allergen may not be listed above. If you feel that you may be allergic to a type of food, consult your doctor. Most allergies can be diagnosed with a blood test or through a skin prick test.
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