If you have a serious allergy to peanuts or shrimp and have ever found yourself having a reaction to similar foods, you likely experienced food allergy cross reactivity—a problem that causes great concern for many people today.

The Truth About Food Allergies

According to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, food allergies are relatively rare, affecting only about 2 percent of adults in the United States.  Most other people who have reactions to certain foods simply have food intolerance. In a real food allergy, the immune system is involved, which means when your body comes in contact with the allergen, the reaction can be serious.

Complicating Matters

You might think that protecting yourself is as simple as avoiding the foods that make you react. But in fact, this may be easier said than done, since it is often difficult to know exactly what items will make trigger your food allergies.   This is because the risk of cross reactivity also exists. As a result, in addition to the foods you know you react to, you also have to worry about your body reacting to other foods in the same family that have similar properties, making cross reactivity sometimes challenging to predict.

For instance, if you can't tolerate walnuts, you may get the same allergic reaction to other tree nuts, such as almonds and cashews. And if lobster is out for you, you are safest avoiding all types of shellfish completely. But even so, avoiding other related foods may not be enough, since there could be other related foods that you don't know to avoid, and these can still cause your immune system to go into overdrive.

What to Do

Because you can't predict the cross reactivity of all food allergies in advance, what can you do to avoid a serious allergy attack?  The first thing is to talk with your doctor about your concerns and about the scope of the risks that exist. He or she should be able to help you to identify other foods that could pose a danger, which is often enough to avoid most unexpected reactions.

You should also know that no matter how restricted your diet is, there is always the chance that you could suddenly have cross reactivity to something else, so carrying an epi-pen with you at all times is suggested. This way, if food allergies or a cross reaction does occur, you will be able to treat yourself right away and buy extra time to seek emergency medical attention. You should also wear a medical alert bracelet, which will let others know about your food allergies in case you are ever unable to communicate yourself.