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Food allergies

2-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.

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.

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:

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

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.

Critical shortage of EpiPen Jr Adrenaline (epinephrine)

The Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) has issued an alert that stock of EpiPen Jr has run out in Australia. For more information on this supply shortage and the latest updates, see TGA's alert on EpiPen Jr.

The Australasian Society of Clinical Immunology and Allergy (ASCIA) has practical health information and advice. If you have no access to adrenaline, call triple zero (000) early if you think someone is having a serious allergic reaction (anaphylaxis).

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

Allergen testing

The Australasian Society of Clinical Immunology and Allergy recommends that you should speak to your doctor or specialist about the benefits and safety of allergen immunotherapy before commencing any treatment for a food allergy. For further information, visit the Choosing Wisely Australia website.

Follow the links below to find trusted information about food allergies.

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

Last reviewed: June 2018


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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.

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