Food allergies can come in various severities and you can be allergic to many types of food. Many people have peanut and nut allergies or are intolerant to eggs or fruits. Knowing whether or not you have a food allergy can be a life or death situation. While most people aren’t deathly allergic to food, some are and can go into anaphylactic shock if they eat the wrong thing.
How would you know if you have a food allergy without getting a doctor to test you specifically? This article looks at some of the signs and symptoms of being allergic to some foods.
What is a Food Allergy?
Before you can look at the symptoms of a food allergy, you first need to understand what exactly a food allergy is. Food allergies are more prevalent in children than adults, with up to 8% of children under the age of three having an allergy, while only about 3% of adults have it.
A food allergy is a reaction your body’s immune system has to specific foods. Your immune system is designed to fight off infections from bacteria, viruses, or other pathogens. Sometimes, your immune system mistakes food as something it needs to fight. This unusual reaction can be as mild as an itchy sensation or severe anaphylactic shock.
Symptoms of a Food Allergy
Food allergies show up in different ways, with symptoms all over your body. Some of the most common symptoms include the following:
- Itchiness or tingling in your mouth, throat, or nose
- Red rash, hives, or general itchiness of the skin
- Swelling in the eyes, throat, tongue, or other parts of the body
- Vomiting, abdominal pain, or diarrhea
- Trouble breathing, wheezing, coughing, sneezing, or nasal congestion
- Feelings of lightheadedness, dizziness, or fainting
You can also experience symptoms related to hay fever when you eat specific foods, which can also indicate an allergy.
If you have more severe symptoms, then you risk going into anaphylaxis. This can be life-threatening and you should seek emergency help if you experience severe trouble breathing, wheezing, dizziness, or swelling. If your chest feels tight or you have difficulty speaking, emergency intervention is also necessary.
The Cause of Food Allergies
Food allergies happen when your immune system mistakes specific proteins in foods as a threat and starts to attack them to get them out of your system. The chemical your body releases is known as immunoglobulin E (IgE). Every time you eat the food that caused the reaction in the first place, your immune system will release histamines, and often the reaction will worsen over time.
Almost any food can cause this reaction, but there are more common allergens:
- Tree nuts (like walnuts)
- Cow’s milk
Testing and Treatment
To accurately treat a food allergy, you have to identify which food causes a reaction in order to avoid it. Your doctor or allergist will ask detailed questions about the food that you’ve eaten, which will include:
- What you’ve eaten
- How much you’ve eaten
- How long after eating symptoms started
- What symptoms do you experience
- The severity of the symptoms
They can do a prick test on your skin to find the specific foods you’re allergic to. These tests allow tiny amounts of the food to enter your bloodstream through a prick on your skin. These results take about 20 minutes to show. The test can be uncomfortable, as a positive result causes a wheal on the skin. This is a type of swelling, similar to a mosquito bite.
Alternatively, you can do a blood test. This is less uncomfortable but also less accurate, and you’ll only get the results after about a week.
Your allergist will need all possible information to make a diagnosis. While a positive result doesn’t necessarily indicate a specific allergy, negative results help to rule certain foods out.
The primary method you’ll use to treat your food allergy is to avoid the food you’re allergic to. This could mean that you need to learn all the names used for the food types, including scientific names, and carefully read labels and ingredients of anything you plan on consuming. The most common allergens must be indicated on all labels, even if it’s just incidental exposure, like peanuts. While this helps, some food types are so common that it’s extremely difficult to avoid them altogether. A nutritionist or dietician can help develop a plan on how to avoid these foods effectively.
Unfortunately, it’s impossible to tell whether you’ll have the food allergy for life or whether reactions will become more severe. It’s also not necessarily true that you’ll get more severe reactions over time, as a food allergy can cause a mild reaction once and a severe reaction the next time you’re exposed.
Some medications can help manage allergic reactions, but the most effective way of staying healthy is by avoiding the food altogether. Antihistamine medications are generally available over the counter but primarily aimed at hay fever. If your doctor suspects that you could have a severe reaction, then you may need to have an EpiPen on you, which will be helpful if you experience anaphylaxis.
Certain foods are common allergens and can cause mild to severe allergic reactions in certain people. If you suspect you may have a food allergy, you should see a doctor or allergist to identify the food. The best treatment once the food is identified is to avoid consuming it, which may mean you’ll have to make lifestyle changes.