A food allergy, according to the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, is “an abnormal response to a food, triggered by the body’s immune system.”
Definition & Facts
Clinical studies suggest that up to 15 million Americans have food allergies. When individuals living with food allergies eat certain foods, their immune systems trigger a response due to the food being perceived as a foreign or indigestible substance. As a result, the immune system creates an abundance of proteins or antibodies which releases histamine and other chemicals.
In some cases, an allergic reaction to a food can be severe or life-threatening. By contrast, food intolerance symptoms are generally less serious, don't involve the immune system, and are often limited to digestive problems.
Symptoms & Complaints
- Hives (reddish, swollen, itchy areas on the skin)
- Eczema (a persistent dry, itchy rash)
- Redness of the skin or around the eyes
- Itchy mouth or ear canal
- Nausea or vomiting
- Stomach pain
- Nasal congestion or a runny nose
- Slight, dry cough
- Odd taste in mouth
- Uterine contractions
- Obstructive swelling of the lips, tongue, and/or throat
- Trouble swallowing
- Shortness of breath or wheezing
- Turning blue
- Drop in blood pressure (feeling faint, confused, weak, passing out)
- Loss of consciousness
- Chest pain
- Weak pulse
- Anaphylaxis which can be life-threatening
There is currently no definitive answer as to what causes food allergies in individuals, though genetics may play a role. It is believed that food allergies may be linked to an inadequate supply of a certain kind of gut flora called Clostiridae. Clinical studies have examined the role of this flora in preventing food allergies. Its reduced amount in the gut may be attributable to various environmental factors such as high-fat diets and overuse of antibiotics.
Diagnosis & Tests
Most healthcare specialists will asks patients a series of questions about the foods that seem to trigger adverse reactions. The following list highlights some of those questions:
- Did your reaction come on quickly, usually within several minutes after eating the food?
- Is your reaction always associated with a certain food?
- How much of this potentially allergenic food did you eat before you had a reaction?
- Have you eaten this food before and had a reaction?
- Did anyone else who ate the same food get sick?
- Did you take allergy medicines, and if so, did they help?
Additionally, dietary modification and observation tactics will often be employed in order to find “trigger” foods. Other methods healthcare providers may use include, but are not limited to, skin allergy tests and blood tests.
Treatment & Therapy
While there are no medicines to prevent or end food allergies, primary health care providers can provide their patients with “autoinjectable epinephrine,” which is to be used in the event that they experience an allergic reaction to food and do not have immediate access to professional medical help.
It is important for all individuals with food allergies to have an anaphylaxis emergency action plan which helps individuals learn how to recognize symptoms of anaphylaxis, gives instructions on first aid, and provides emergency contact information.
Epinephrine or adrenaline is a synthetic version of a naturally occurring hormone within the body. The medication is typically injected in the individual’s thigh. It can help relax muscles to aid breathing, stimulates the heart, and reduces swelling. This helps lessen the pain and stress associated with allergic reactions to certain foods.
Additionally, depending on the severity and number of food allergies that individuals may have, health care specialists may prescribe antihistamines or advise their patients to purchase recommended over the counter brands.
Prevention & Prophylaxis