If you ask Food Allergy Research and Education (FARE), a food allergy is a serious medical condition. A food allergy is also considered a disability under federal laws, such as Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
It is not to be confused with a food sensitivity or intolerance (both refer to digestive problems after eating a certain food). Unlike food allergies, food intolerances do not involve the immune system.
Food allergies are IgE mediated, meaning that the immune system produces excessive amounts of an antibody called immunoglobulin E (IgE for short). These IgE antibodies fight the “enemy” food allergens by releasing histamine and other chemicals, which trigger the symptoms, including anaphylaxis. Anaphylaxis is a type of reaction involving difficulty breathing, reduced blood pressure, vomiting, diarrhea, and, ultimately, throat closing, which could lead to death if not immediately treated with epinephrine.
Delays in getting this medicine can result in death in as little as 30 minuets. More so, up to 20% of patients have a second wave of symptoms hours or even days after their initial symptoms (this is called biphasic anaphylaxis).
Contrary to popular belief, the EpiPen is not meant for one-time use or to stop a reaction on its own. If an EpiPen is needed, you must call 911 to get further care. Sometimes, even two injections of an EpiPen are needed (which means people with food allergies should carry two EpiPens at all times).
There is no cure for food allergies, and the number of people with food allergies is seriously growing. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, food allergies among children increased about 50% from 1997 to 2011. There is no clear answer why.
For now, the best that people with food allergies can do is to avoid their allergens at all costs.