What Are the Treatment Options for Food Allergies?

A look at avoiding triggers, preparing for emergencies, and therapies that can help control food allergies.

A mother and a small child read a food label together in a supermarket, checking ingredients for any food allergens.

Updated on March 11, 2024

A food allergy is a potentially life-threatening condition that often begins in early childhood, although it can begin at any age.

When a person has a food allergy, the immune system reacts to certain foods or substances found in certain foods. This immune system reaction can cause a wide range of symptoms that affect the skin, the GI tract, and the respiratory system. Food allergies can also cause anaphylaxis, a life-threatening allergic reaction that causes a person to go into shock.

There is no cure for food allergies, but the condition can be managed.

What healthcare providers treat food allergies?

Initial treatment of food allergies may begin with a child’s pediatrician (or, for adults with food allergies, a primary care provider). A pediatrician or primary care provider can order tests, prescribe an emergency kit to use in case of a severe allergic reaction, and refer a person to a specialist.

Treatment typically involves working with an allergist/immunologist, a medical doctor who specializes in the treatment of allergies and disorders that involve the immune system.

Treatment may involve other healthcare providers depending on the allergy symptoms a person experiences and other coexisting conditions. Many people who have food allergies also have asthma and a skin condition called atopic dermatitis. A treatment team can include a dermatologist, a gastroenterologist, and a pulmonologist.

Registered dietitians are also an important part of a care team. Having to avoid certain foods can cause a person to miss important nutrients—including nutrients that are essential to normal growth and development in children.

How are food allergies managed?

The primary treatments for food allergies are avoiding any foods that trigger an allergic response, knowing how to treat a mild allergic reaction, and knowing what to do during a severe allergic reaction. People with food allergies and parents of children with food allergies—as well as other family members—should receive instruction on these areas of a treatment plan.

Avoiding trigger foods

  • In most cases, food allergies involve wheat, soy, milk, eggs, peanuts, shellfish, and nuts, but nearly any food can cause an allergic reaction under the right circumstances.
  • Even trace amounts of a trigger food can cause an allergic reaction in a person who has a food allergy.
  • To avoid exposure, it’s essential to understand how to check a food label, how cross contamination can occur, how to order at a restaurant, and what behaviors increase the risk of exposure.

Treating mild allergic reactions

  • Even with efforts to avoid food triggers, accidental exposures can happen. Review what to do with a healthcare provider if there is an accidental exposure.
  • For mild allergic reactions, a healthcare provider may recommend carrying an antihistamine medication that can be taken when symptoms begin.
  • Antihistamines block the effects of histamine, a chemical that is released during allergic reactions. Some antihistamines are available over the counter, others are available by prescription.
  • Antihistamines cannot treat severe reactions.

Emergency treatment for severe reactions

  • Severe allergic reactions like anaphylaxis are a medical emergency that require emergency treatment.
  • Symptoms of a severe allergic reaction or anaphylaxis can include whole-body hives, flushing and redness of the face, difficulty breathing, rapid heartbeat, swelling (lips, tongue, throat), wheezing, confusion, dizziness, blue skin, abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea.
  • Symptoms can begin as mild but progress to severe in seconds.
  • A healthcare provider can answer questions and provide more information on the signs and symptoms of anaphylaxis.
  • A severe reaction requires immediate administration of an epinephrine injection. This can reverse symptoms, improving breathing and circulation. A healthcare provider can instruct you in the use of an epinephrine injection.
  • After an epinephrine injection, call 911 (or other local emergency number) and visit an emergency room. Anaphylaxis can recur hours after an initial episode.

Are there treatments to control food allergies?

Your healthcare provider may discuss other treatment options. One example is desensitization/immunotherapy treatments, which use specifically designed drugs to desensitize the immune system to specific allergens. Like any allergy treatment, these medications require careful administration under the guidance of a healthcare provider.

Monoclonal antibody drugs are another recent development in therapy. These drugs have been used to treat other conditions like asthma and chronic hives. Monoclonal antibodies work by blocking the antibody that is released by the immune system when a person has food allergies. This can help reduce the severity of allergic reactions.

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