Witnessing rashes on your skin from eating something? You may be having a food allergy!

Recall a time when you’ve suddenly developed a rash on the skin after eating or getting in contact with something new or unknown? It is most likely caused due to a food allergy . Consuming foods that you are allergic to can cause allergic reactions on the skin and even gastrointestinal discomfort1. The allergy symptoms often include itchy skin, skin rash, hives , and swelling¹ to name a few. In this article, let’s talk about food allergies, common food allergens in Singapore and management options available.

How do food allergies work?

Food allergies are caused by the immune system ’s reaction to a specific type of food¹. Our immune system is responsible for protecting our bodies from potential threats such as bacteria and viruses. Its function is to release chemicals to kill the threat and prevent the spread of infection in the body.

In food allergies, a certain protein present in a particular food item is mistaken as a threat by an antibody known as immunoglobulin E (IgE). IgE3 can cause several chemicals to be released, but out of them all, Histamine is the most important. These chemicals result in allergic reactions in the body.

For those with severe allergies, a food allergy can trigger a potentially life-threatening reaction known as anaphylaxis 3. It can occur suddenly and progress rapidly, impair breathing, cause low blood pressure and affect your heart rate. It can be fatal if the right treatment is not provided in a timely manner.

What are the symptoms and causes of food allergy?

Common allergy symptoms related to food are:

Skin: Hives , itching, rash on skin, eczema

Nose: Congestion, sneezing, runny mucus

Mouth and Throat: Tingling or itching in the mouth, swelling in the tongue, lips and throat

Chest: Shortness of breath, wheezing, tightness, coughing

Gastrointestinal (GI) tract : Nausea, vomiting, cramps, diarrhea

Systemic: Dizziness, light-headedness and fainting

Food allergies can be caused due to ingestion of a particular food item that might contain a protein to which the person is allergic.

In children, most food allergies are caused by food items such as:

  • Eggs
  • Milk – If a child is allergic to cows’ milk, there are high chances they are allergic to other types of milk, including infants' and follow-on formulas.
  • Soya
  • Wheat
  • Peanuts

In adults, most food allergies are caused by food items such as:

  • Peanuts
  • Tree nuts – such as pine nuts, walnuts, brazil nuts, almonds, etc.
  • Fish
  • Shellfish – such as lobster, crawfish, crabs, etc.

Food allergy testing and its prevalence

Food allergies can occur at any age, and the sensitivity to a particular allergic food can vary through different age groups. The highest prevalence of food allergies can be seen in infants and children in the first few years of life. That’s why it is sometimes recommended to get food allergy testing done2.

Most of the time, food allergies might decline over the first decade of a child’s lifespan but may not go away completely. Whereas in adults, people with conditions like eczema and asthma are more likely to have food allergies3.

Approximately 6% of children and 1-3% of adults suffer from food allergies1. If you have a family member with an allergic condition, you are at a slightly higher risk of developing a food allergy too. However, you may not develop the same food allergy as them. For example, if your brother develops a skin allergy due to shellfish, you wouldn’t necessarily develop the same reaction to the same food items but a different one.

Management and prevention

Although the best management for food allergies is to avoid eating the food you are allergic to1. Here are some tips for living with food allergies:

  • Know what you’re eating and drinking.
  • Be sure to read food labels carefully.
  • When eating out, be certain that restaurant staff or chefs are aware of your needs and that the dishes you order do not contain any food allergens.

For instances when you come in contact with or ingest food that you are allergic to accidentally, here are the possible symptoms and management options:

  1. Minor allergic reactions: Most physicians recommend over-the-counter (OTC) antihistamines. Antihistamines acts by preventing histamine from binding to its receptors which is primarily helpful in controlling itchy skin, hives , and other symptoms4. These antihistamines can be taken immediately after exposure to an allergy-causing food.
  2. Severe allergic reactions. In cases such as anaphylaxis , you would need an emergency injection of epinephrine3 and a trip to the emergency room. People at risk of severe allergic reactions may carry an epinephrine auto-injector prescribed by their doctor for emergency use.

Food allergy is something that shouldn’t be taken lightly. From a rash on the skin to a severe anaphylactic shock, an allergic reaction can escalate from minor discomfort to a life-threatening situation. That’s why the best way to prevent such situations is to understand your food allergies and possible food allergens. Knowing what to avoid and steer clear of can help you enjoy culinary adventures with little worry about experiencing allergic reactions.


  1. WHO Food Allergies. Assessed June 9, 2006
  2. FDA Food Allergens. Assessed May 5,2021
  3. WorldAllergy Food Allergy. Assessed March 2017
  4. WHO Anti allergics and Medicines Used in Anaphylaxis.