Allergy to soy, a product of soybeans, is a common food allergy. Often, soy allergy starts in infancy with reaction to soy-based infant formula. Although most children outgrow soy allergy, some carry the allergy into adulthood.
Mild signs and symptoms of soy allergy include hives or itching in and around the mouth. In rare cases, soy allergy can cause a life-threatening allergic reaction (anaphylaxis).
If you or your child has a reaction to soy, let your doctor know. Tests can help confirm a soy allergy.
Having a soy allergy means avoiding products that contain soy, which can be difficult. Many foods, such as meat products, bakery goods, chocolate and breakfast cereals, may contain soy.
For most people, soy allergy is uncomfortable but not serious. Rarely, however, an allergic reaction to soy can be frightening and even life-threatening. Signs and symptoms of a food allergy usually develop within a few minutes to hours after eating a food containing the allergen.
Soy allergy symptoms can include:
A severe allergic reaction (anaphylaxis) is rare with a soy allergy. It's more likely to occur in people who also have asthma or who are allergic to other foods besides soy, such as peanuts.
Anaphylaxis causes more-extreme signs and symptoms including:
See your primary care doctor or a doctor who specializes in treating allergies (allergist) if you experience food allergy symptoms shortly after eating. If possible, see your doctor during an allergic reaction.
Seek emergency treatment if you develop signs or symptoms of anaphylaxis, such as:
An immune system reaction causes food allergies. With a soy allergy, your immune system identifies certain soy proteins as harmful, triggering the production of immunoglobulin E (IgE) antibodies to the soy protein (allergen). The next time you come in contact with soy, these IgE antibodies recognize it and signal your immune system to release histamine and other chemicals into your bloodstream.
Histamine and other body chemicals cause a range of allergic signs and symptoms. Histamine is partly responsible for most allergic responses, including a runny nose, itchy eyes, dry throat, rashes and hives, nausea, diarrhea, difficulty breathing, and anaphylactic shock.
A food allergen can also cause what's sometimes called a delayed food allergy. Although any food can be a trigger, soy is one of the more common in children. The reaction, commonly vomiting and diarrhea, usually occurs within hours after eating the trigger, rather than minutes.
Unlike some food allergies, FPIES usually resolves over time. As with typical soy allergies, preventing a reaction involves avoiding foods with soy.
Certain factors may put you at greater risk of developing a soy allergy:
If you're not nursing, ask your doctor for advice on what to feed your child until your appointment to reduce the risk of symptoms.
If you have symptoms of soy allergy, avoid foods that contain soy.
There's no way to prevent a food allergy. If you have an infant, breast-feeding instead of using a soy-based or milk-based formula may help.
If you're allergic to soy, the only way to avoid a reaction is to avoid soy products. It's not always easy to know which foods contain soy, a common ingredient in many foods.
Read food labels carefully. Soy is often present in unexpected foods, including canned tuna and meat, baked goods, crackers, energy bars, low-fat peanut butter, and canned soups. Read labels every time you buy a product, because ingredients can change. Also, check for the statement "contains soy" or "may contain soy" on product labels.
Highly refined soy oil may not cause a reaction because it doesn't contain soy proteins. Similarly, you might not react to foods that contain soy lecithin. But generally, if a label includes the word "soy," avoid it. Products to avoid include, but are not limited to:
Besides "soy," "soya" and "soybeans," other words on food labels may indicate that the product contains soy, including:
Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and may perform a physical exam. He or she may recommend one or both of the following tests:
The only way to prevent an allergic reaction is to avoid soy and soy proteins.
Medications, such as antihistamines, may reduce signs and symptoms of minor soy allergies. Taking an antihistamine after exposure to soy may control your reaction and help relieve discomfort. Over-the-counter antihistamines include: diphenhydramine (Benadryl, Banophen Complete Allergy Medication), chlorpheniramine (Chlor-Trimeton, Aller-Chlor), cetirizine (Zyrtec, Equate Allergy Relief) and loratadine (Alavert, Claritin).
Despite your best efforts, you can eat soy unknowingly. If you have a serious allergic reaction, you may need an emergency injection of epinephrine and to go to the emergency room.
A number of treatments are in clinical trials. Promising treatments include oral (swallowed) immunotherapy (OIT) and sublingual (under the tongue) immunotherapy (SLIT) to increase tolerance to foods that cause allergic reactions. But more research is needed.
If you're at risk of having a severe reaction or have had one:
Call 911 or emergency medical help or go to an emergency room if you or your child develops symptoms of anaphylaxis, such as difficulty breathing or a rapid, weak pulse.
For less severe symptoms, call your family doctor or pediatrician. In some cases, you may be referred to a doctor who specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of allergic illness (allergist).
Here's some information to help you get ready and to know what to expect from your doctor.
Write down the questions to ask your doctor. This will help you make the most of your time together.
Some questions to ask about soy allergy include:
If your child is the one with symptoms, ask your doctor these additional questions:
Don't hesitate to ask other questions, as well.
Your doctor is likely to ask you a number of questions, including:
If your baby or child is the one with symptoms, your doctor may also ask:
Symptoms of soy allergy in babies may appear when a baby starts a soy-based infant formula. If you suspect your baby is allergic to soy, reduce exposure to allergens by feeding him or her breast milk. If your baby is eating solid foods, avoid products with soy.
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