The advice here is primarily written for parents of a child with a food allergy. However, most of it is also relevant if you're an adult with a food allergy.
There's currently no cure for food allergies, although many children will grow out of certain ones, such as allergies to milk and eggs.
The most effective way you can prevent symptoms is to remove the offending food – known as an allergen – from their diet.
However, it's important to check with your GP or the doctor in charge of your child's care first before eliminating certain foods.
Removing eggs or peanuts from a child's diet is not going to have much of an impact on their nutrition. Both of these foods are a good source of protein, but this can be replaced by alternative sources.
A milk allergy can have more of an impact, as milk is a good source of calcium, but there are many other ways you can incorporate calcium into your child's diet, such as with green leafy vegetables. Many foods and drinks are also fortified with extra calcium.
See your GP if you're concerned that your child's food allergy is affecting their growth and development.
It's very important to always check the ingredients list on any pre-packed food or drinks your child has.
Under EU law, any pre-packed food or drink sold in the UK must clearly state on the label if it contains any of these 14 ingredients that can cause an allergy:
Also look out for voluntary "may contain" labels, such as "may contain traces of peanut". Manufacturers sometimes put this label on their products to warn consumers that they may have become accidentally contaminated with another food product during the production process.
Be careful with foods labelled as vegan. There is no legal definition of vegan, which means that foods labelled vegan are not always completely free of animal products. If you have food allergies to milk, eggs, fish, crustaceans or molluscs, read the ingredients list carefully on vegan food products. And look out for labels with warnings such as "may contain".
Read more detailed information about allergen labelling on the Food Standards Agency website.
Some non-food products contain allergy-causing food:
Again, read the labels of any non-food products your child may come into close physical contact with.
Currently, unpackaged food does not need to be labelled in the same way as packaged food. The law requires food businesses to tell customers if their food products contain any of the 14 allergens, but this can be done in different ways.
A business could provide full allergen information on a menu, or they could have a sign advising customers to ask a member of staff for this information. This can make it more difficult to know what ingredients are in a particular food.
Examples of unpackaged food include food sold in:
If you or your child have a severe food allergy, you need to be careful when you eat out.
The following advice should help:
Here's some more advice for parents:
It used to be thought that avoiding eating peanuts during pregnancy and when breastfeeding could help reduce the risk, but this theory has now been questioned.
There's some evidence that introducing peanuts early in life may reduce the risk of peanut allergy, but this may not apply to all children and requires confirmation from further studies.
It's important to follow the standard recommendations for pregnancy and breastfeeding, whether or not you have a family history of food allergies.