A typical food allergy manifests itself as the immune system’s immediate – and extreme – reaction towards a specific allergen. The signs and symptoms for such vary, and certain allergies may not persist past the age of 16 in most individuals. However, if severe symptoms are left unattended or ignored, the body may enter a state of anaphylactic shock (a life-threatening condition which obstructs free breathing).
According to a study released in 2013 by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, food allergies have risen dramatically over a span of fourteen years – nearly a 50% increase, in fact. As such, researchers approximate that an impressive 15 million individuals within the United States currently suffer from at least one type of food allergy; 3 million of this number are affected by peanut or tree-nut allergies. Though certain allergies (such as wheat allergies) may potentially be outgrown, others (such as a tree-nut allergy) may persist for the entirety of an individual’s lifetime.
In many cases, a food allergy may pose itself to become dangerously life threatening: within the United States alone, one individual is rushed to an emergency room every 3 minutes as a result of food allergies. This is often a result of individuals unable to receive a dosage of epinephrine (adrenaline) to both reduce and cease the effects of a typical allergic reaction (including the body going into a state of anaphylactic shock) in time.
An estimated 40% of children suffering from food allergies carried histories of severe allergic reactions. Furthermore, 30% of food-allergic children suffered from multiple food allergies – most often peanut, tree-nut, and milk allergies.
Signs and symptoms
The associated signs and symptoms present themselves similarly across nearly every kind of food allergy:
- Stomach cramping and/or severe abdominal pain
- Mild to severe nausea and vomiting
- Persistent headaches
- Shortness of breath and/or asthmatic attacks
- Nasal congestion or a runny nose
- Difficulty breathing/wheezing and/or repetitive coughing
- Hives and rashes appearing over the body (specifically the skin around the eyes and mouth)
- A swollen, irritated throat and inability to gulp or swallow
- Dizziness/feeling faint
- Low blood pressure and/or paleness of the skin
- Shock or circulatory collapse
Signs and symptoms may develop either minutes or hours following ingestion of the allergen. In infants, food protein-induced enterocolitis syndrome (FPIES) may cause gastrointestinal problems after the ingestion of milk, soy, or various grains.
Management often whittles down to careful label-reading and avoidance. Book an appointment with an allergist if you suspect you or your child of possessing a food allergy. After running a physical exam and a handful of blood and skin tests, the doctor will be able to determine whether or not a food allergy is present, and how best to go about with its treatment. Approach your doctor to construct or advise a meal plan or substitutes for certain food items.
Carefully read labels and information available online before purchasing a food item, cosmetic, or skin-care product. Phone restaurants beforehand to better understand their kitchen and serving policies, or read up on which dishes include which allergens. Carry an EpiPen at all times, and frequently wash dishes and hands to avoid cross-contamination. If you suspect a dish or product to be carrying an allergen, it is better to stay safe and not purchase or consume it.
DISCLAIMER: The medical information on this site is provided as an information resource only, and is not to be used or relied on for any diagnostic or treatment purposes. This information is not intended to be patient education, does not create any patient-physician relationship, and should not be used as a substitute for professional diagnosis and treatment.