Food allergy awareness has boomed over the past decades, and rightfully so. Many people suffer from some sort of food allergy, whether a minor irritation or life-threatening situation. Let’s talk about the symptoms, the causes, and what you can do if you suffer from food allergies.
Some common allergies include nuts, shellfish, gluten, egg and dairy. Allergic reactions to foods typically begin with minutes to a few hours after eating the food. How often and how severe one experiences symptoms varies widely from one person to another. Mildly allergic persons may only suffer from a runny nose or sneezing, while highly allergic persons may experience severe and potentially life-threatening rations.
The most common symptoms of a food allergy involve the intestines or the skin. Symptoms presenting on the skin can include rashes or hives. Intestinal symptoms often include nausea, vomiting, stomach cramps, indigestion, and diarrhea. Other symptoms can include swelling of the tongue, lips, or throat; asthma, with coughing or wheezing; itchy or runny nose and sneezing; loss of blood pressure; and, in rare cases, anaphylaxis, a very severe allergic reaction.
While it’s possible that a patient experiencing these symptoms is having an allergic reaction to food, there may be other causes in the works. We can run a skin test to be sure that these symptoms are caused by a food allergy before a treatment plan can be discussed. In the skin test, we look for particular allergies by scratching the patient’s skin with a toothpick like tool containing a tiny sample of the potential allergen. The skin’s reaction to the test will help us to determine if you are in fact allergic to the food in question or if their symptoms may be caused by something else.
If you do have a food allergy, it is the result of their body’s immune system over-reacting to food proteins. Normally the immune system protects the body against allergic reactions; however, in the individual with a food allergy, the immune system produces increased amounts of the allergic antibody called immunoglobulin E (IgE). When these antibodies combine with food proteins, histamine and other chemicals are released as part of the body’s immune reaction. The release of these chemicals can result in the symptoms mentioned earlier.
Avoidance is key in the treatment of food allergies. However, avoiding trigger foods isn’t always a guarantee. Accidents happen and it’s always smart to have a backup plan. For those with mild allergies, oral antihistamines can be quite helpful. For those with severe reactions, keep an EpiPen handy at all times. If you have any questions or want to be tested for allergies, please give our office a call!