Much like your nose will be irritated with faced with an environmental allergy such as pollen, your body may produce an immune system reaction to food if you are allergic to something you ate. This is a food allergy.
According to the Mayo Clinic, there are eight foods that account for 90% of all food allergies. They are eggs, milk, tree nuts, peanuts, fish, shellfish, soy, and wheat.
Food allergies occur most often in children, but they affect 3% of adults, too. There’s no cure, but many children grow out of their food allergies as they age.
Don’t confuse a food allergy with food intolerance. While a food intolerance can be painful or uncomfortable, it is typically not life threatening and does not involve an immune system response.
Food Allergy Symptoms
The severity of symptoms can vary. A person may simply be uncomfortable, or they may need medical attention immediately. Some symptoms may appear within minutes, while others may not show up for hours.
The most common symptoms to watch for are:
● Tingling in the mouth
● Itching, hives, or eczema
● Facial swelling including lips, tongue, or throat
● Trouble breathing, wheezing, or nasal congestion
● Diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, and abdominal pain
● Lightheadedness, dizziness, or fainting
There are other symptoms you can’t see, such as a spike in blood pressure and increased adrenaline. Those will present as dizziness or fainting in most cases. In some serious cases, anaphylaxis occurs, which results in life-threatening symptoms like:
● Constricted airways
● A swollen throat that makes it difficult to breathe
● Rapid pulse
● Severe drop in blood pressure, causing shock
● Loss of consciousness
When this happens, the person needs emergency treatment. Anaphylaxis can cause death if left untreated.
Causes of Food Allergies
There are several key indicators that could put you or your child at a higher risk for food allergies. These include family history, other allergies, age, and asthma.
People are at an increased risk for developing food allergies if there is a family history of eczema, hives, asthma, or allergies like hay fever. If that’s the case, keep an eye out and be prepared for a higher chance of food allergies.
If you are allergic to one food, you are at an increased risk for developing allergies to others. Your chances are greater if you also have allergic reactions like eczema or hay fever.
Food allergies are much more common in infants and toddlers. As the digestive system matures, it’s less likely to absorb the components of food that cause reactions. Children usually grow out of allergies to things like wheat, egg, milk, and soy, while allergies to nuts and shellfish last longer or are lifelong.
Food allergies and asthma frequently go hand in hand. If you have asthma, keep an eye on your food intake and watch for allergic reactions. If you have food allergies and asthma, both conditions are typically more severe.
You are also at an increased risk for developing anaphylaxis if you have a history of asthma, are a teenager or younger, delay the use of epinephrine when you have an allergic reaction, or you don’t have hives or other visible symptoms of an allergic reaction.
Preventing Food Allergies
Unfortunately, you can’t cure a food allergy. Sometimes they go away as children get older, but if you have a true food allergy, you can’t do anything to get rid of it. That’s why awareness of your food allergy is so critical.
The best thing for people with food allergies to do is avoid foods that cause the allergy. This can be difficult. Popular ingredients found in almost all dishes may be hidden and hard to avoid, such as soy or milk products.
If you know you have a food allergy, always read the labels carefully or look up recipes for your favorite restaurants before you go so you know what you can order without risk.
Obtain a medical alert bracelet so others around you know you have a food allergy. This can greatly reduce the amount of time it takes to get medical attention, even if you can’t communicate.
For severe allergies, talk to your doctor about a prescription for emergency epinephrine that you can carry with you anywhere and always plan meals and snacks before you go. Take your own cooler of snacks with you and be prepared to make your requests clear to anyone serving you food.
If your child has a food allergy, talk to all of your child’s caregivers at daycare, at school, and at friend’s houses. Make sure everyone understands what the allergy is, the severity of the reaction, and what to look for. Provide them with an action plan if your child has an allergic reaction while in their care.
Discuss the allergy with your children so they fully understand what to look for and when to ask for help. Make sure your child wears a medical alert bracelet at all times to explain the allergy and provide others with the knowledge they need to provide first aid.
When to See a Doctor
If you have what you think are food allergy symptoms, seek medical attention. Depending on the severity of the symptoms, that may mean calling 911 or going to the emergency room. After an allergic reaction event, follow up with your primary care doctor or see an allergist for an effective treatment plan to ensure your safety and well-being.