GlutenMyth: Gluten is a food allergen and eliminating it from my diet will help me feel better.

Fact: Gluten is not a food allergen; it is a protein composite found in wheat, barley and rye. Some people experience gastrointestinal problems from eating gluten, but that is an intolerance, not an allergy. An allergy is an immune system response while intolerance is a digestive issue.

People with celiac disease must avoid gluten because it causes a serious autoimmune response – but again, that is not an allergy. Gluten-free diets eliminate many nutritious foods that are high in fiber, vitamin B, zinc and iron, so talk with your doctor before taking this step.

Myth: Severe food allergy reactions can be treated with antihistamines.

Fact: Antihistamines slowly relieve non-life-threatening allergic reactions, such as mild hives. When symptoms intensify to include shortness of breath, tightness in the throat, severe hives or heart or digestive problems, it’s a life-threatening situation called anaphylaxis that should be treated immediately with an epinephrine auto-injector. Epinephrine is the first line of treatment for anaphylaxis and acts quickly to relieve symptoms.

Remember that epinephrine is short-acting and allergic emergencies can last for hours, so be sure to seek immediate medical attention for a severe food allergy reaction.

Talk with your healthcare team about carrying two epinephrine auto-injectors to ensure your protection.

Myth: Children younger than 3 years old can’t be tested for food allergies.

Fact: The American Academy of Pediatrics says there is no specific age limit for food allergy testing. Infants younger than 6 months of age are not commonly given skin prick allergy tests, however.

If you think your child has a food allergy, consult a board-certified allergist who will take a full history of symptoms and recommend options for testing.

Truth Be Told

A food allergy is an immune response to proteins in certain foods. Severe reactions, called anaphylaxis, can be life-threatening, so early recognition and treatment are critical. Foods that cause 90 percent of allergic reactions are cow‘s milk, eggs, peanuts, soy, wheat, fish, shellfish and tree nuts.

If you think you or your child might be allergic to a certain food, consult a board-certified allergist who is trained to test and diagnose food allergies. Then, avoid the offending foods, develop an Anaphylaxis Action Plan, learn to read food labels, and keep two epinephrine auto-injectors with you at all times in case you experience a severe allergic reaction.

Myth: Parents should not introduce common food allergens into their child’s diet before age 3.

Fact: The American Academy of Pediatrics says parents can begin introducing solid foods to children as young as 4-6 months – including foods that are common allergens such as peanut, eggs and fish. Doing so may even help build a tolerance to those allergens.

If there are food allergies in your family or your child has an allergic disease like asthma or eczema, talk with your pediatrician or allergist about the appropriate time to introduce solid foods that include common allergens.

Myth: Children with egg allergy should not get the flu shot or the MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) vaccine.

Fact: Children who have had mild reactions to eggs – such as hives – may receive the regular flu shot, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), but should be monitored in a doctor’s office for 30 minutes after receiving the injection. Those with severe egg allergies should discuss all options with an allergist.

The American Academy of Pediatrics and the Advisory Committee on Immunizations Practices (ACIP) of CDC says the MMR vaccine can be safely administered to those with egg allergies.

Reviewed by Andrea Holka and Denise Kalman, MD