Millions of people are allergic to various kinds of food, and you may not even know you have a problem until you become desperately sick or require a trip to the ER. Contrary to popular belief, adults can develop allergies to foods they’ve eaten with no problem in the past.

Some allergic reactions only cause discomfort or illness, such as nausea and vomiting, hives or diarrhea. Other allergic reactions to food can be life-threatening (anaphylaxis). A suspected allergic reaction should always be treated at an emergency room.

Although having a food allergy can be scary, it doesn’t have to ruin your life. Here are four tips to remember when you’re living with a food allergy.

Always Read Food Packaging Labels
You would be surprised at how many foods contain allergens like shellfish, nuts and eggs. All processed food go through multiple tests before distribution, including allergen testing. Allergens identified must be listed on the product label.

It’s important to avoid foods with labels that use “may contain” or “manufactured on shared equipment” labels; although the amount of an allergen in those foods may be small, they could still cause a serious reaction.

According to Medical News Today, there are at least 160 foods that can cause an allergic reaction. The eight most common are:
• Milk
• Eggs
• Fish
• Shellfish
• Tree nuts
• Peanuts
• Wheat
• Soybeans
The site also reports a research study in which 11 percent of consumers bought food with a “may contain” label and 40 percent purchased “manufactured on shared equipment” products.

Reactions Can Get Worse
You might be tempted to continue eating a food you’re allergic to because your reactions are mild; this is a common mentality among adults with food allergies, but it can be deadly. Just because your body reacts mildly to an allergen once does not mean it will always do so.

Someone could continually eat something they’re allergic to only to suddenly go into anaphylaxis, which affects the breathing and sends the body into shock. Without an EpiPen, anaphylaxis often proves deadly in a matter of minutes.

Avoid Cross-Contact
Food allergens can be passed along on utensils or plates or from one food to another if they’re prepared on the same surface. Removing cheese from a cheeseburger doesn’t mean the burger no longer contains traces of cheese that could cause a reaction.

Indirect cross-contact can happen in restaurants where dishes are all prepared in the same area, and most likely mixed utensils. It’s important to thoroughly investigate anywhere you intend to eat, and you should always avoid cross-contamination in your own cooking.

Some Allergen Alternatives Can Also Cause Reactions
When the proteins in one food are similar to those in another, they can also cause an allergic reaction. This is known as cross-reactivity. Your doctor will be able to tell you how allergic you are to a particular food and what other foods could cause similar reactions.

It’s best to stay on the safe side; if you suspect a food could be cross-reactive, don’t consume it just to find out. Instead, investigate it thoroughly and ask your doctor whether it would be safe to try.

It’s best to always carry an EpiPen with you; food allergy reactions can be immediate or delayed, and you should always be prepared to treat them. You will have to be more conscious of your diet and eating habits after being diagnosed with a food allergy, but with time, it becomes easier.

Make sure that you always carry an anaphylaxis wallet card or wear a medical bracelet that includes your name, emergency contact information and specific allergy. You should also make sure you understand the signs of a severe reaction and are comfortable using an auto-injector to treat emergency symptoms.

Author's Bio: 

Anica is a professional content and copywriter who graduated from the University of San Francisco. She loves dogs, the ocean, and anything outdoor-related. She was raised in a big family, so she's used to putting things to a vote. Also, cartwheels are her specialty. You can connect with Anica on Twitter @AnicaOaks.