The Top 8 Allergens That Trigger Reactions


Food allergies are immune system responses to substances found in certain foods. Reactions to the allergens can range from mild to severe, with anaphylaxis being the worst case scenario and potentially fatal. If you have children, it is important to know what the top 8 allergens are and how they trigger 90 percent of all food allergic reactions. Only an allergy test can confirm if your child is allergic to one of the top 8 allergens, but by monitoring your child’s reaction to them, you will have a good idea of whether or not your child is affected.

The Top 8 Allergens

These foods cause the vast majority of food allergies, and as such must be labeled on food products. Allergies to some of these may be outgrown by adulthood, but some persist. Additionally, children may be sensitive to some of these foods but not allergic, which can cause confusion. If you suspect your child reacts to any of these, see your pediatrician for testing and referral to a specialist.

  1. Milk

     Of all the top 8 allergens, cow’s milk is the most common issue for infants. The good news about a milk allergy is that 90 percent of children will outgrow it. A milk allergy is an immune response to the proteins casein and whey. This should not be confused with lactose intolerance, which means your child lacks the enzymes needed to digest milk sugar, known as lactose.

    Possible sources: tofu, baked goods, coffee, chocolate, brown sugar, fried foods, seasonings, soup mixes

  2. Eggs

     Like a milk allergy, most children outgrow an allergy to eggs by the age of 6. The most common symptoms of egg allergy are digestive problems, but skin reactions are also common and anaphylaxis is possible. The main allergic culprits in eggs are the proteins in the white. Egg yolks don’t often trigger reactions, but it is possible.

    Possible sources: sauces, baby food, icing, pies, cakes, quiche, pasta (egg noodles)

  3. Fish

    Fish allergies are most common in regions of the world in which people consume high levels of fish. Anaphylaxis is a possible reaction to fish as an allergen, but digestive and skin symptoms are more common. A fish allergy is not restricted to any one species. The allergen is most likely a muscle protein called parvalbumin, which is found in all types of fish.

    Possible sources: deli meats, hot dogs, pizza toppings, salad dressings, sauces (marinara or Worcestershire), marshmallows

  4. Shellfish

    Shellfish are different from fish and not all people allergic to one will be allergic to the other. Shellfish include crustaceans like crabs, lobster and shrimp, as well as mollusks like clams, oysters and mussels. Older children are more likely to be affected by a shellfish allergy, and symptoms include oral allergy syndrome (swelling in the mouth and face) and anaphylaxis.

    Possible sources: deli meats, hot dogs, pizza toppings, salad dressings, sauces (marinara or Worcestershire), marshmallows

  5. Peanuts

    Peanuts are probably the most recognized of all the top 8 allergens. This is because peanut allergies cause more cases of anaphylaxis than other allergens. Peanuts are the most common cause of food allergy fatalities. Although anaphylaxis is possible with peanut allergies, it is not the only reaction. Some children with peanut allergies may only experience oral allergy syndrome or skin reactions when in contact with peanuts.

    Possible sources: cakes, cookies, fried foods, Szechwan sauce, vegetarian meat substitutes, cereals

  6. Tree nuts

    Peanuts are legumes, not nuts, so they are not included in this category of top 8 allergens. Tree nuts include walnuts, chestnuts, Brazil nuts, hazelnuts and pine nuts. Tree nuts are among the most potent of all food allergens, meaning that it takes only a small amount of the allergen to trigger a reaction. This makes strict avoidance important for those allergic to nuts. The most common reaction to tree nuts is skin rash, but nuts also cause many cases of anaphylaxis.

    Possible sources: baked goods, salads, chocolate bars, trail mix, flavoured coffee, Amaretto

  7. Wheat

    Wheat allergies are most often seen in infants, and most babies outgrow them by age 5. Symptoms of wheat allergies range from mild skin reactions to oral allergy syndrome to anaphylaxis. Celiac disease is different from wheat allergy but is also an immune response to the protein gluten, found in wheat, and it causes mild to severe digestive symptoms.

    Possible sources: breads, baked goods, pasta, cereal, crackers, gravy mixes, croutons, creamed soups, battered foods

  8. Soy

    Rounding out the top 8 allergens is soy. The prevalence of soy allergies is difficult to determine because soy is similar to legumes like peanuts. The allergies often are misdiagnosed as one or the other. Symptoms range from mild to severe and can include anaphylaxis. Soy is one of the most difficult allergens to avoid and is often called the hidden allergen because it is used in so many varied food products.

    Possible sources: tofu, chewing gum, hot chocolate, baby formula, baked goods, canned tuna, candy

The top 8 allergens for food allergies include many ingredients found in a lot of different foods. Avoiding them can be challenging. Parents need to be vigilant but should also ensure that their children are properly tested for allergens. Conclusive testing can help you avoid the need to eliminate foods from your child’s diet and can help you protect your child from the mild to life-threatening symptoms of food allergies.

Stef PenrodComment