What Does Allergen Mean?

If you have recently been diagnosed with a food
, you have probably heard words like "allergen," "allergic reaction" and "trigger foods."

These words are related to allergies, and you will soon know them as well as your own name.

What Is an Allergen?

An allergen can be anything that causes an allergic reaction in a person, including food, dog or cat dander, pollen or dust mites. Most people can be around these things without experiencing a reaction of any kind. However, it is much different for the person with an allergy to the substance. This person could have a wide range of responses to an allergen, from red, itchy eyes to anaphylaxis, a life-threatening condition. Serious allergic reactions require that a person carries ephinephrine, a drug that stops an allergic reaction, at all times. The individual must also visit the emergency room after an injection of this drug because he or she might still have additional symptoms caused by the allergen.

Allergens exist worldwide, and although there are some allergens in parts of the world that do not exist in other areas, there are similar allergens everywhere. For instance, in the United States, some people have a pumpkin allergy. This allergen may not exist in parts of Asia that do not have pumpkins, but people who live in another part of the world might be allergic to fruits and other foods that we do not eat in the U.S. Other allergens like dust mites are found around the world.

Common Food Allergens

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has categorized eight common foods that cause most of the allergic reactions in people with a food allergy. These are milk, peanuts, tree nuts, wheat, eggs, soy, shellfish and fish. Many people, especially children under the age of 5, have a reaction when they eat these foods. They may also experience symptoms if something they eat is processed using the same equipment as a food to which they are allergic.

Allergens in Medication

In some cases, medication that is intended to help a patient feel better can be harmful if the person cannot tolerate it. For example, the drug penicillin can become an allergen if an individual experiences allergy symptoms upon consumption. A rash, hives, wheezing, difficulty breathing, itching around the mouth and other symptoms can develop. Many people are allergic to this drug, as well as others like sulfa. If you experience an allergic reaction to a certain medication, be sure to tell your doctor so you are not prescribed a medication that could harm you.

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