Surprising Reasons You Keep Having Allergic Reactions

In a perfect world, you’d know your food allergy or food intolerance and would be astute at managing it, avoiding an allergic reaction. But the world isn’t perfect. In fact, human behavior and the way the body responds to food aren’t perfect or predictable, either.

Despite your best efforts at managing your food allergy, it’s possible you may be having ongoing symptoms of an allergic reaction or food intolerance. And that can be a point of frustration.

Here are six surprising reasons why individuals with food allergies and food intolerances keep having reactions. Make sure you investigate these reasons and alter your management approach to steer clear of future symptoms.


Cross Contamination

A woman baking in the kitchen

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You’re not as careful about washing down the countertops or cleaning the toaster as you used to be. You’re in such a rush at work that you hastily put together a salad for lunch. But, those breadcrumbs from the toaster can contaminate your allergen-free breakfast. And the salad bar at work is loaded with potential allergens that can get into your food. Although the rates of cross-contamination among individuals with food allergy are unknown — they depend on the frequency of exposure to an allergen, the dose, and the amount of exposure that will cause a reaction within an individual, which varies — we know it’s a leading cause of the allergic reaction.


Failing to Read the Ingredients Label

You’re a pro at managing your food allergy, and you rarely check the ingredients label on food products because you don’t stray from your usual safe bets. This can be dangerous. You have to be a detective when it comes to purchasing food. Read the ingredients label thoroughly, even if it is a product you routinely buy — ingredients can change without notice, and it’s up to you to investigate the product each time you purchase it.


Complacency (Lax in Your Food Allergy Management)

You’re tired of dealing with a food allergy. After all, you haven’t had an allergic reaction in years. So you become relaxed about watching for cross-contamination, reading ingredients labels, and asking how food is made in restaurants. Becoming complacent about your food allergy, or lax in your management of it, is like walking into a war zone without your armor or your weapon. It’s a disaster (an allergic reaction) waiting to happen.


Experimenting With Food

Similar to being complacent about your food allergies or intolerances, you may be tempted to experiment with food that may contain your food allergen, or even overtly try your food allergen. This desire can happen after a long period without any symptoms of food allergy. It can also be a natural part of the teenage journey to independence, taking a risk for the value of a reward.


Uncertain Diagnosis

Food allergies are pretty straightforward, but food intolerances can be subtle. You may be having symptoms of an allergic reaction but not understand why or what is causing it. Or, you may be following a food elimination diet, and working to understand which food is triggering your reactions. Regardless, not knowing what food is causing your symptoms may be the issue. Get in touch with a board-certified allergist to get to the bottom of your symptoms so you can stop reacting to food.


Managing Food Allergies Without Medical Input

Your friend seems to be having similar symptoms as you are experiencing and she was diagnosed with a wheat allergy. You assume you have a wheat allergy also, and start to cut it out of your diet. The problem with this approach is your reaction may be a symptom of food allergy, food intolerance, or food sensitivity, and your friend’s symptoms really have nothing to do with your symptoms. You need to investigate your symptoms with your own medical doctor or health care professional. This will provide a clear diagnosis, or at least an approach to determine what ails you so that you can manage your symptoms and live a reaction-free life.

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  • Joneja JV. The Health Professional's Guide to Food Allergies and Intolerances. Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

  • Zurzolo et al. Perceptions of precautionary labeling among parents of children with food allergy and anaphylaxis. Med J Austr. 2013; 198: 621-623.

By Jill Castle, MS, RD
Jill Castle, MS, RD, is a childhood nutrition expert, published book author, consultant, and public speaker who helps parents nourish healthy kids.