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Are Food Allergies Causing Your Headaches?

If you find yourself having frequent headaches but can't pinpoint the cause, it could be something you ate. Food allergies create a number of symptoms, many of which don't show up until several hours after you've eaten something. Here is how what you eat may be causing that pain in your head.

Allergens in Your Food

A small number of foods account for 90 percent of all food allergies. However, these foods appear in many places making it hard to avoid one or more of these allergens. The list of foods includes:

  • dairy products, such as milk and cheese
  • groundnuts, such as peanuts
  • tree nuts, such as almonds
  • soy beans
  • wheat
  • eggs
  • shellfish

It can be difficult identifying what foods contain these items. Manufacturers must note on their food label when these items are contained in a food. But if used in an indirect way, their use may be hidden. For example, peanuts can be used as a thickener for sauces. If a packaged food item contains gravy, the use of peanuts may not be clear in the ingredients label.

Some manufacturers do go beyond the food label requirements. They will indicate when a product is created or packaged in an environment that also processes one of the allergens, such as peanuts. For people with severe food allergies, this is important to know.

Other Clues That You Have a Food Allergy

Besides the headaches, you can have a number of other reactions to a food allergen. In some cases the reaction is sudden, just as the food enters your esophagus or stomach. Other symptoms occur much later as the food moves through the digestive process. Some of these symptoms include:

  • coughing and sneezing
  • runny nose and itchy eyes
  • light headedness
  • abdominal cramps
  • sudden bouts of diarrhea
  • inflammation of tissues in the mouth and throat
  • nausea and vomiting

Diagnosing Food Allergies

Allergy testing is done to identify the specific foods to which you have an allergic reaction. Some foods you readily suspect, such as if your throat gets swollen every time you eat a peanut. However, the problem may not be as clear should you have a reaction to eating a cookie. The allergen for you could be the wheat or egg in the cookie.

The allergy specialist can do two tests to determine to which foods you are sensitive:

  • Blood test - Your blood will contain certain substances as a result of your immune system reacting to specific foods.
  • Skin test - A liquid containing a small amount of the food is placed on your skin and the skin is pricked with a needle. If you are allergic to that food, within a few minutes you'll see a small red bump, like a rash, develop on the skin.

You'll also get some indication of how sensitive you are to a food through these tests.

Treatment of Food Allergies

There are no cures for food allergies. Depending on your level of sensitivity, your may tolerate the symptoms because it's a food you like, or you may avoid the food completely. For some people, a food allergy can be deadly. An allergy to peanuts can be so severe that eating something with a small amount of peanut in it causes severe swelling of the airways so that the person can't breathe.

Workarounds are available for some food allergies to allow you to continue enjoying similar foods:

  • Dairy - It's the specific proteins in milk to which people are allergic. If you react to cow's milk, you may be able to drink goat's milk.
  • Wheat - The typical allergen in wheat is the gluten it contains. Gluten-free items are available to allow you to eat foods containing wheat without the allergen.
  • Eggs - Your doctor can determine if it's the proteins in the egg yolk or white to which you react. If it's just the egg yolk, then you can still enjoy an omelette for breakfast by just using the egg whites.

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