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Food Allergy

Guidelines for the Diagnosis and Management of Food Allergy in the United States

What's in It for Patients

What the Guidelines Summary Tells You

The Guidelines for the Diagnosis and Management of Food Allergy in the United States: Summary for Patients, Families, and Cargivers summarizes the most important information from the Guidelines and provides a starting point for patient-doctor conversations about food allergy. We hope that this information will empower patients, families, and caregivers with the knowledge they need to manage the disorder and, in turn, experience a better quality of life.

Why You Need To Know About the Food Allergy Guidelines

Approximately 1 in 20 children and about one in 25 adults have a food allergy. If you have a food allergy, then the more you know and understand about the disease and its diagnosis and management, the better you will be able to discuss your care with your doctor.

The Guidelines for the Diagnosis and Management of Food Allergy in the United States: Report of the NIAID-sponsored Expert Panel is a report developed by a 25-member expert panel to help healthcare professionals, including family practice physicians, medical specialists, and nurses, to better care for their patients with food allergy. The guidelines are based on the most up-to-date scientific and clinical information about food allergy and the consensus expert opinion of the panel members.

Make sure your doctor knows that the guidelines are available so you can work together to manage your food allergy effectively.

The Food Allergy Guidelines—What They Tell Your Doctor

The guidelines were developed for healthcare professionals. In addition to important background information about food allergy, the guidelines contain 43 clinical recommendations that can help your doctor determine whether you have food allergy and if you do, then customize your care.

The guidelines provide the following information:

  • Definitions of food allergy and disorders associated with food allergy
  • Descriptions of the development of food allergy and conditions associated with food allergy
  • Recommendations on
    • How to diagnose food allergy and what tests to use
    • How to manage non-life-threatening allergic reactions
    • How to diagnose and manage potentially life-threatening food-induced anaphylaxis and other acute reactions

Digging Deeper—What's in the Guidelines for You?

  • Definitions

    The guidelines define food, food allergy, food allergens, and specific allergic conditions associated with food. The guidelines also provide information to enable your doctor to distinguish food allergy from food intolerance (read about the difference between these two conditions).

  • Common food allergens

    In the United States, the most common food allergens are egg, milk, peanut, tree nuts, wheat, crustacean shellfish, fish, and soy.

  • How food allergy develops

    Food allergy is more common in children than in adults.

    Most children will outgrow allergies to milk, egg, soy, and wheat. Allergies to peanut or tree nuts are often lifelong. A food allergy that starts in adulthood, such as an allergy to shellfish, also tends to be lifelong.

    Food allergy often co-exists with other diseases, such as asthma, eczema (atopic dermatitis), and eosinophilic esophagitis. If your family has a history of allergy and you have eczema, then you are at greater risk for having food allergy than someone who does not have these risk factors.

    Because the severity of an allergic reaction to food is based on many factors, the severity of any future reaction cannot be accurately predicted by the severity of a past reaction.

  • Diagnosing food allergy and which tests are used

    If you have had an adverse reaction to a food, see a doctor who can evaluate whether you have a food allergy. Although you may think that your reaction is caused by an allergic response to a food, only your doctor can determine whether this is true.

    The guidelines recommend that your doctor first takes your detailed medical history and then performs a physical examination. If a diagnosis of food allergy seems likely, there are tests―such as the skin prick test or a blood test that detects allergen-specific antibodies―that will help identify the possible allergenic foods.  However, these approaches cannot conclusively diagnose a food allergy.

    The only test that definitively proves whether you have a food allergy is an oral food challenge. Because having this test can place you at risk for a severe allergic reaction, it must always be performed by a healthcare professional who has the appropriate experience and resources to perform this test.

    Read more about tests used to diagnose food allergy.

  • Ways to manage your food allergy after a diagnosis

    Is there a cure for food allergy? Not yet. The only way to prevent a reaction to a food is to avoid the allergenic food.

    The guidelines suggest that you read food labels carefully.

    If you have a child with food allergy, the guidelines suggest seeking nutritional counseling.

    Remember, because some allergies can be outgrown, you should be re-tested periodically to see whether you are still allergic.

  • Anaphylaxis and foods most likely to cause it

    Anaphylaxis is a serious allergic reaction that is rapid in onset and may result in death.

    Anaphylaxis can have many symptoms and affect different parts of the body. As a result, it is under-recognized and under-treated. Read more about anaphylaxis and its symptoms.

    The most common trigger foods for anaphylaxis are peanut, tree nuts, milk, egg, fish, and crustacean shellfish.

    To reduce the risk of anaphylaxis, it is essential that you avoid your specific trigger food.

  • What to do if you are experiencing anaphylaxis

    The guidelines recommend that if you are experiencing anaphylaxis, or even suspect that you are, immediately take epinephrine and seek immediate medical attention by calling 9-1-1.  Delaying epinephrine use places you at significantly increased risk for a life-threatening reaction.

  • Be prepared—have an emergency plan in case you experience anaphylaxis

    If a doctor has told you that you have had anaphylaxis, the guidelines recommend that you and your doctor develop an anaphylaxis emergency plan so that you can be prepared in case it happens again. For example, always carry epinephrine with you in a self-injectable form.

    See an example of an anaphylaxis emergency action plan (PDF) from the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology.

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Last Updated February 23, 2012

Last Reviewed December 02, 2010