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Food allergies

9 of the most common food allergies: What you need to know.


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Food allergies occur when a person’s immune system reacts abnormally to something they eat or drink. Allergies are serious illnesses and can be life threatening, so it’s important to take the utmost care to avoid any adverse reactions. According to Food Safety Australia, food allergies affect 10% of infants under one, 4-8% of children up to five years old and 2% of all adults. Cow’s milk, eggs, fish, peanuts, sesame, shellfish, soy, tree nuts and wheat are the nine major allergenic foods. These make up around 90% of all allergies.

Cow’s Milk

Girl drinking milk at the kitchenCow’s milk is the most common cause of food allergy in infants and is one of the biggest food allergies in the world. However, a child often outgrows a milk allergy by the age of six. If you have a milk allergy, you will most likely be affected by the lactose or the proteins (whey and casein) found in cow’s milk. People suffering from a milk allergy can have difficulty increasing their height or weight, as well as the following symptoms:

  • Abdominal pain and vomiting
  • Skin irritation and rashes
  • Diarrhoea (can be bloody)
  • Runny nose
  • Sneezing and coughing
  • Anaphylaxis (breathing problems, swelling of the throat, a drop in blood pressure, pale skin, dizziness, fainting)

If you’re allergic to milk, make sure to avoid the following ingredients and products:

  • All dairy products
  • Butter
  • Cream
  • Cultured buttermilk
  • Nougat
  • Whey protein
  • Yoghurt
You should also be wary of the following products that may contain milk:
  • Baked goods
  • Batter-fried goods
  • Bottled water and fruit juice
  • Cheese
  • Chocolate
  • Dips
  • Margarine
  • Pastries
  • Probiotics
  • Salad dressings
  • Sauces and spreads


Fried eggs on taostEggs are a key ingredient in a long list of meals and food products, but they’re also one of the most common sources of food allergies worldwide. Egg allergies mainly impact young children and many children will grow out of the allergy by the age of six. The allergy is generally to hen’s eggs rather than any other types of eggs. Adverse reactions to eggs commonly occur in the digestive system and include the following:

  • Skin reactions such as inflammation, hives and rashes
  • Sneezing, wheezing, coughing, nasal congestion and difficulty breathing
  • Abdominal pain and diarrhoea
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Anaphylaxis

The following are some of the ingredients you should avoid if you are allergic to eggs:

  • Eggs
  • Egg substitutes
  • Egg white
  • Egg yolk
  • Glaze on baked goods
  • Meringue mix
  • Powdered eggs
You should also be wary of the following range of products that may contain eggs:
  • Baked products
  • Battered foods
  • Biscuits
  • Cakes
  • Confectionery
  • Custard
  • Glazed foods
  • Mayonnaise
  • Hamburgers
  • Meringue
  • Mousse
  • Omelettes
  • Quiche
  • Salad dressings
  • Sauces


Delicious fresh fish on dark vintage background. Fish with aromatic herbs, spices and vegetables - healthy food, diet or cooking conceptFish allergies tend to affect more adolescents and adults than children. Seafood allergies are estimated to affect approximately 1% of the world’s population. Fish allergies occur more frequently in countries that have a high rate of seafood consumption. Fish allergy symptoms are many and varied and they often depend on the type of fish ingested. The following are some common symptoms of fish allergies:

  • Skin irritation, hives and rashes
  • Swelling of the mouth, throat and nose
  • Runny nose, nasal congestion and sneezing
  • Breathing difficulties
  • Stomach pain, nausea, vomiting and diarrhoea
  • Headaches
  • Severe drop in blood pressure
  • Anaphylaxis

People who suffer from a fish allergy should avoid eating any type of fish, including the following species that are commonly used as ingredients:

  • Anchovy
  • Bream
  • Carp
  • Caviar
  • Cod
  • Eel
  • Flounder
  • Hake
  • Herring
  • Mackerel
  • Perch
  • Salmon
  • Sardine
  • Snapper
  • Sashimi
  • Trout
  • Tuna
  • Whiting
You should also take care when eating the following foods, which may contain fish:
  • Antipasto
  • Many Asian dishes
  • Canned spreads
  • Caesar salad
  • Dips
  • Gelatin
  • Pizza toppings
  • Salad dressings
  • Sauces
  • Sushi


Jar and spoon of peanut butter and peanuts on dark wooden background from top viewPeanut allergies are most commonly found in children, although they can also occur for the first time in adults. Unfortunately, peanut allergies are usually a lifelong condition and children are unlikely to grow out of the allergy. Peanut allergies are potentially serious and are an ongoing risk given the ever-present chance of accidental exposure. People who suffer from a peanut allergy can experience an extreme allergic reaction that produces the following symptoms:

  • Itchy skin and hives
  • Itching or tingling around the mouth or throat
  • Nausea
  • Runny nose or nasal congestion
  • Breathing difficulties
  • Anaphylaxis

If you suffer from a peanut allergy, you should avoid the following products:

  • Beer nuts
  • Groundnuts
  • Mixed nuts
  • Nut pieces
  • Peanuts
  • Peanut butter
  • Any products containing peanut or peanut derivatives
You should be wary of the following products and foods that may contain peanuts:
  • African, Asian, Indian and Mexican dishes
  • Biscuits
  • Breakfast cereals
  • Chocolates
  • Dried fruit mixes
  • Gravy
  • Ice cream
  • Lollies
  • Nougat
  • Praline
  • Pesto
  • Salad dressing
  • Sauces
  • Soup


Sesame oil with sesame seedA lifelong condition, sesame allergies are quite common in Australia. Though most commonly associated with sesame seeds, sesame allergy sufferers can also have an adverse reaction to sesame oil and other sesame products used in cooking, such as tahini. This type of allergy can be very difficult to live with because sesame seeds are very small and easy to miss. Also, many food labels do not specifically state that a product contains sesame seeds. There are several other names that can indicate the presence of sesame seeds in a product, including sim sim, benne and gingelly seeds. It’s important to be aware of all these terms if you suffer from a sesame allergy. Some of the symptoms of an allergic reaction to sesame include the following:

  • Rashes and other skin irritations
  • Coughing and difficulty breathing, shortness of breath
  • Abdominal pain and nausea
  • Vomiting and diarrhoea
  • Itching of the mouth, throat or eyes
  • Swelling of the face, nose and mouth
  • Flushed face
  • Anaphylaxis (in severe cases)

Sesame allergy sufferers must avoid the following ingredients:

  • Benne
  • Benniseed
  • Gingelly seeds
  • Sesame
  • Sesame seeds
  • Sesarmol
  • Sesomolina
  • Sim sim
  • Tahina
  • Tahini
  • Til
You should be wary of the following products and foods that may contain sesame:
  • Asian and Middle Eastern foods
  • Baked goods
  • Crackers and dips
  • Dressings
  • Herbs
  • Marinades
  • Pâtes
  • Pretzels
  • Salads
  • Spices
  • Spreads


Oysters on stone plate with ice and lemonA shellfish allergy occurs when the body’s immune system responds abnormally to certain types of marine mammals. Crustaceans such as prawns, lobster and crab cause the largest number of allergic reactions. However, oysters, mussels, scallops, squid and a range of other shellfish can also cause adverse reactions. There is currently no cure for a shellfish allergy, so it’s recommended that sufferers do not consume any shellfish and carry an EpiPen (epinephrine) with them at all times. The symptoms of a shellfish allergy vary widely depending on the severity of the reaction. They may include the following:

  • Stomach cramps and indigestion
  • Nausea, vomiting and diarrhoea
  • Tingling in the mouth
  • Swelling of the mouth and difficulty breathing
  • Swelling of the tongue and/or lips
  • Wheezing and coughing
  • Skin irritation and rashes
  • Dizziness and fainting
  • Sudden drop in blood pressure
  • Rapid pulse
  • Anaphylaxis

If you suffer from a shellfish allergy, you must avoid any form of shellfish to which you are allergic. The following shellfish should be avoided:

  • Abalone
  • Clams
  • Crab
  • Crawfish
  • Lobster
  • Molluscs
  • Mussels
  • Octopus
  • Oysters
  • Prawns
  • Scallops
  • Sea snails
  • Squid
You should also be wary of consuming any of the following products that may contain shellfish:
  • Bouillabaisse
  • Cuttlefish ink
  • Fish stock
  • Natural or artificial flavouring
  • Sauces
  • Squid ink
  • Surimi


Sushi rolls with chopsticks and soy sauce on black wooden tableAlthough it is most commonly a childhood allergy, soy allergies can also affect adults. However, the good news is that unlike many of the other allergies on this list, a soy allergy is not usually life threatening. Instead, it’s often more of an inconvenience and a cause of discomfort, although severe reactions can occur if someone also suffers from asthma or another allergy. A soy allergy refers to an allergy to soybeans, a legume, but if you suffer from this condition, it does not necessarily mean that you will be allergic to other legumes. However, because soya is a common ingredient in many foods and products, a soy allergy can be a constant cause of concern for sufferers. Symptoms of a soy allergy include the following:

  • Skin irritation and rashes
  • Tingling in the mouth
  • Nausea, vomiting and diarrhoea
  • Swelling of the face, lips, tongue or throat
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Blocked or runny nose
  • Red skin
  • Wheezing or coughing

If you suffer from a soy allergy, you should always avoid the following ingredients:

  • Bean curd
  • Edamame
  • Hydrolysed plant/soy/vegetable protein
  • Miso
  • Soy
  • Soya
  • Soybean
  • Tempeh
  • Tofu
You should also be wary when consuming the following products that may contain soy:

  • Vegetable stock
  • Vegetable broth
  • Vegetable gum
  • Vegetable starch
  • Natural or artificial flavouring

Tree nuts

Ripe almonds on the tree branchTree nuts are one of the most common causes of allergies in Australia and around the world. They include popular nuts such as almonds and cashews, as well as lesser-known varieties such as pine nuts and Brazil nuts. While tree nut allergies are more often found in children, they can persist into adulthood. It’s also possible for affected people to suffer a severe reaction after only minimal contact with a tree nut, such as skin contact or inhalation. Some of the symptoms of tree nut allergies include the following:

  • Abdominal pain and nausea
  • Vomiting and diarrhoea
  • Skin rashes and irritation
  • Itchy mouth, throat and/or eyes
  • Swollen throat, tongue and lips
  • Nasal congestion or a runny nose
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Shortness of breath
  • Anaphylaxis

If you’re allergic to tree nuts, there is a long list of foods and ingredients that you need to avoid:

  • Almonds
  • Almond meal
  • Almond paste
  • Brazil nuts
  • Cashews
  • Hazelnuts
  • Macadamia nuts
  • Marzipan
  • Nut-flavoured alcoholic liqueurs
  • Nut milk
  • Nut oils
  • Nut paste
  • Pecans
  • Pine nuts
  • Pistachios
  • Pralines
  • Walnuts
You should also be wary of the following foods that may contain tree nuts:
  • African, Asian, Indian, Mexican and vegetarian/vegan dishes
  • Baked goods
  • Biscuits and cookies
  • Breakfast cereals
  • Cakes and slices
  • Chocolates
  • Crackers
  • Dips
  • Dukkah
  • Natural or artificial flavouring
  • Frozen desserts
  • Health food bars
  • Ice cream
  • Lollies
  • Pasta sauces
  • Pastries
  • Pesto
  • Salads and salad dressing
  • Stuffing
  • Takeaway food


golden wheat field and sunny dayWheat contains gluten, which negatively affects sufferers of coeliac disease. Many sufferers of wheat allergies are able to consume rice without any problems but will suffer an allergic reaction to oats, rye, barley and other wheat-related grains. As there is no cure, the best thing coeliac disease sufferers can do is avoid wheat. However, if they do ingest gluten, the symptoms can vary from mild to potentially life threatening. Symptoms include the following:

  • Hives, rashes and skin irritation
  • Inflammation in the abdomen and bowel
  • Stomach cramps, nausea, vomiting and diarrhoea
  • Mouth ulcers
  • Sneezing
  • Headaches
  • Muscle pains

If you suffer from a wheat allergy, the following ingredients must be avoided:

  • Bran
  • Breadcrumbs
  • Couscous
  • Flour
  • Gluten
  • Pasta
  • Semolina
  • Spelt
  • Tabouleh
  • Wheat (bran, germs, flakes, sprouts, cornflour)
You should also be wary of the following products that may contain wheat:
  • Baked goods
  • Biscuits
  • Breakfast cereals
  • Natural or artificial flavouring
  • Battered fried foods
  • Canned soups and stocks
  • Icing sugar
  • Ice cream cones
  • Lollies
  • Pancakes
  • Soy sauce
  • Starch
Content on this website is provided for education and information purposes only. Information about a therapy, service, product or treatment is not an endorsement and does not imply its appropriateness for your circumstances. Our information is not intended to replace advice from your doctor or other registered health professional and you should not rely on this general information for diagnosis or answers for your particular circumstances. Instead seek advice from a registered health care professional. This content has been prepared for Australian audiences and was accurate at the time of publication but, over time, the currency and completeness of the published material may change.

Picture: Shutterstock

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