Healthdirect Free Australian health advice you can count on.

Medical problem? Call 1800 022 222. If you need urgent medical help, call triple zero immediately

healthdirect Australia is a free service where you can talk to a nurse or doctor who can help you know what to do.

beginning of content

Food allergies

3-minute read

A food allergy occurs when the immune system responds to an allergen (an ingredient that is usually harmless) in food. This triggers an immune reaction, which can range from mild to severe.

A severe allergic reaction (anaphylaxis) is a medical emergency. Call triple zero (000) immediately. Lay the person down. If they have an adrenaline injector and you are able to administer it, do so.

The majority of food allergies in children are not severe and usually children will outgrow many allergies with time. Some allergies, particularly nut and seafood allergies, are less likely to decrease with age.

A food allergy is different to a food intolerance. Food intolerances involve the digestive system, whilst food allergies involve the immune system. Most food intolerances don’t cause severe or life-threatening reactions.

What are the symptoms of food allergy?

Symptoms of a mild allergy include:

  • hives (red circular weals on the skin)
  • swelling of the face or around the mouth
  • vomiting
  • abdominal discomfort or pain

Symptoms of severe allergy may include:

  • wheeze or trouble breathing
  • difficulty talking more than a few words and/or a hoarse voice
  • cough
  • swelling or tightness of the throat
  • collapse
  • light-headedness or dizziness
  • diarrhoea
  • swelling of the tongue
  • going pale and floppy (in young children)

What foods cause allergies?

Some foods are more likely to cause allergies than others. These include:

What are the tests for food allergies?

Skin or blood tests are used to find the triggers for food allergy. Sometimes a health professional will supervise a temporary elimination diet followed by food challenges to identify the cause.

Even if the tests show someone is allergic to a food, they cannot tell whether the reaction will be mild or severe. Sometimes people may test positive to an allergy to a certain food and be able to eat it with not symptoms.

There are several unproven tests for food allergy, such as cytotoxic food testing, Vega testing, kinesiology and hair analysis. There are not scientifically proven and should be avoided.

How is food allergy treated?

Food allergy should be managed under the guidance of a clinical immunologist or allergy specialist.

In most cases, the person must avoid the food they are allergic to. This means carefully reading food labels, taking care when eating out and avoiding cross contamination when preparing food.

They should carry their adrenaline autoinjector and ASCIA Action Plan for Anaphylaxis with them at all times and know what to do when a reaction occurs.

The Australasian Society of Clinical Immunology and Allergy recommends that allergen immunotherapy should not yet be used for routine treatment of food allergy, although there is ongoing research in this area. For further information, visit the Choosing Wisely Australia website.

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: June 2020


Back To Top

Need more information?

These trusted information partners have more on this topic.

Top results

Home - Food Allergy Aware

Food allergy resource hub

Read more on National Allergy Strategy website

Community - Food Allergy Education

Tell your employer about your food allergy before you start work, so they can consider putting strategies in place to reduce the risk of a reaction. Staff at schools and childcare should have training in the management of food allergy (including risk minimisation), recognition of an allergic reaction and emergency treatment of anaphylaxis.

Read more on National Allergy Strategy website

Hospital - Food Allergy Education

Hospital stays - dont assume that hospital food is safe! You need to inform hospital staff about your food allergy and ask questions just as you would at a restaurant or caf.

Read more on National Allergy Strategy website

Basics - Food Allergy Education

A food allergy occurs when a persons immune systems reacts to a food protein that is harmless for most people. When eaten, the immune system releases large amounts of chemicals that trigger symptoms that can affect a persons breathing, heart, skin and gut. Some food allergies can be severe, causing potentially life threatening allergic reactions known as anaphylaxis.

Read more on National Allergy Strategy website

Food Allergy - Allergy & Anaphylaxis Australia

Food allergy explained: what it is and how to manage

Read more on Allergy and Anaphylaxis Australia website

Food Allergy - Allergy & Anaphylaxis Australia

Food allergy occurs in around 1 in 10 infants* and in about 1 in 100 adults.The majority of food allergies in children are not severe, and will disappear with time.The most common triggers are hen's egg, cow's milk, peanuts and tree nuts.Less common triggers include seafood, sesame, soy, fish and wheat.Peanuts, tree nuts, seeds and seafood are the major triggers for life long allergies.Some food allergies can be severe, causing life threatening reactions known as anaphylaxi

Read more on Allergy and Anaphylaxis Australia website

Moving Out with a Food Allergy - Young Adults

Moving Out with a Food Allergy Top Tips For Living With Housemates Make sure that your housemates are aware of your food allergy and that they respect your dietary needs

Read more on National Allergy Strategy website

Future Food Allergy Treatments - Allergy & Anaphylaxis Australia

Future Food Allergy Treatments

Read more on Allergy and Anaphylaxis Australia website

Starting school with food allergies - Allergy & Anaphylaxis Australia

Starting school with food allergies

Read more on Allergy and Anaphylaxis Australia website

Travelling with Food Allergy - Young Adults

Travelling with Food Allergy Top Tips For Travel Take your own food on the plane

Read more on National Allergy Strategy website

Healthdirect 24hr 7 days a week hotline

24 hour health advice you can count on

1800 022 222

Government Accredited with over 140 information partners

We are a government-funded service, providing quality, approved health information and advice

Australian Government, health department logo ACT Government logo New South Wales government, health department logo Northen Territory Government logo Government of South Australia, health department logo Tasmanian government logo Government of Western Australia, health department logo