ALLERGIES 101, the basics about allergies

Allergies is a complex topic and cannot be grasped overnight, but one needs to start somewhere, so let's cover the basics...

... below we share the key definitions, the list of allergens and some frequently asked questions.

What is an Allergy?

Allergies, also known as allergic disease, refers to a number of conditions caused by hypersensitivity of the immune system to typically harmless substances in the environment.

In layman's terms, Eevery day our body protects us against invisible enemies, like for example germs. But sometimes the body mistakes an innocent thing, like eggs, dog hair, milk, peanuts, etc. for an enemy. The body reacts as if it was attacked. If your body reacts like this, we say you are having an allergic reaction.

What different allergic diseases there are?

Such diseases include hay fever, food allergies, atopic dermatitis, allergic asthma, and anaphylaxis.

Symptoms may include red eyes, an itchy rash, sneezing, a runny nose, shortness of breath, swelling, etc.. Food intolerances and food poisoning are separate conditions.

There are different kind of allergies, such as:

  • airway allergy: dust, pollen, cat hair,…

  • contact allergy: jewels, washing powder,…

  • allergy against bugs: wasps,…

  • food allergy: eggs, milk, peanuts,…

  • medicine allergy: penicillin,…

How do you become allergic?

Sometimes you can inherit allergies from your parents, but this is certainly not always the case. The first time in your life that you get in touch with an allergen, your body can decide to get sensitive for this allergen, this is called sensibilization.

The second time you get in touch with this specific allergen, you will have an allergic reaction.

It is as if "little soldiers" get trained in your body to defend you when attacked and as soon as the body feels attacked, these little soldiers act upon it.

What's the difference between allergy and allergic?

An allergy occurs when the body's immune system sees a substance as harmful and overreacts to it. The substances that cause allergic reactions are allergens. When someone has allergies, their immune system makes an antibody called immunoglobulin E (IgE). These antibodies respond to allergens.

What's the difference between allergy and intolerance?

A true food allergy causes an immune system reaction that affects numerous organs in the body. It can cause a range of symptoms. In some cases, an allergic food reaction can be severe or life-threatening. In contrast, food intolerance symptoms are generally less serious and often limited to digestive problems.

What's the difference between allergy and anaphylaxis?

Allergic reactions are common, but most reactions are mild. Anaphylaxis is the most severe form of an allergic reaction and is life threatening, by eventually blocking a person's breathing and/or circulation.

Is there a difference between anaphylaxis and anaphylactic shock?

The terms "anaphylaxis" and "anaphylactic shock" are often used to mean the same thing. They both refer to a severe allergic reaction. Shock is when your blood pressure drops so low that your cells (and organs) don't get enough oxygen. Anaphylactic shock is shock that's caused by anaphylaxis.

The 14 food allergens recognized in Europe

  1. Celery - This includes celery stalks, leaves, seeds and the root called celeriac. You can find celery in celery salt, salads, some meat products, soups and stock cubes.

  1. Cereals containing gluten - Wheat (such as spelt and Khorasan wheat/Kamut), rye, barley and oats is often found in foods containing flour, such as some types of baking powder, batter, breadcrumbs, bread, cakes, couscous, meat products, pasta, pastry, sauces, soups and fried foods which are dusted with flour.

  1. Crustaceans - Crabs, lobster, prawns and scampi are crustaceans. Shrimp paste, often used in Thai and south-east Asian curries or salads, is an ingredient to look out for.

  1. Eggs - Eggs are often found in cakes, some meat products, mayonnaise, mousses, pasta, quiche, sauces and pastries or foods brushed or glazed with egg.

  1. Fish - You will find this in some fish sauces, pizzas, relishes, salad dressings, stock cubes and Worcestershire sauce.

  1. Lupin - Lupin is a flower, but it’s also found in flour! Lupin flour and seeds can be used in some types of bread, pastries and even in pasta.

  1. Milk - Milk is a common ingredient in butter, cheese, cream, milk powders and yoghurt. It can also be found in foods brushed or glazed with milk, and in powdered soups and sauces.

  1. Mollusks - These include mussels, land snails, squid and whelks, but can also be commonly found in oyster sauce or as an ingredient in fish stews.

  1. Mustard - Liquid mustard, mustard powder and mustard seeds fall into this category. This ingredient can also be found in breads, curries, marinades, meat products, salad dressings, sauces and soups.

  1. Nuts - Not to be mistaken with peanuts (which are actually a legume and grow underground), this ingredient refers to nuts which grow on trees, like cashew nuts, almonds and hazelnuts. You can find nuts in breads, biscuits, crackers, desserts, nut powders (often used in Asian curries), stir-fried dishes, ice cream, marzipan (almond paste), nut oils and sauces.

  1. Peanuts - Peanuts are actually a legume and grow underground, which is why it’s sometimes called a groundnut. Peanuts are often used as an ingredient in biscuits, cakes, curries, desserts, sauces (such as satay sauce), as well as in groundnut oil and peanut flour.

  1. Sesame seeds - These seeds can often be found in bread (sprinkled on hamburger buns for example), breadsticks, houmous, sesame oil and tahini. They are sometimes toasted and used in salads.

  1. Soya - Often found in bean curd, edamame beans, miso paste, textured soya protein, soya flour or tofu, soya is a staple ingredient in oriental food. It can also be found in desserts, ice cream, meat products, sauces and vegetarian products.

  1. Sulphur dioxide (sometimes known as Sulphites) - This is an ingredient often used in dried fruit such as raisins, dried apricots and prunes. You might also find it in meat products, soft drinks, vegetables as well as in wine and beer. If you have asthma, you have a higher risk of developing a reaction to sulphur dioxide