Food Allergy

The best way to deal with food allergies is to avoid the foods you are allergic to. Understand and be aware of the foods that you have reacted to. Also be cautious of foods or dishes that may have flavorings or small amounts of foods that you are allergic to.

Symptoms of food allergy may start within minutes, but can start 2 hours after eating or later. Common symptoms can include:

  • Nausea

  • Vomiting

  • Diarrhea or stomach cramps

  • Itchy rash (hives)

  • Swelling of the eyes, lips, face or tongue

  • Wheezing

  • Trouble breathing or swallowing

  • Throat tightness

  • Dizziness or fainting

This kind of allergic reaction, called anaphylaxis, can be life threatening. In mild and moderate cases, the symptoms usually begin improving within 6 to 24 hours. People with certain health problems, such as asthma and eczema, may be more likely to have food allergies. Foods that people are most commonly allergic to are milk or dairy products, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, soy, shellfish, and wheat. Remember that any food can cause a reaction. Treatment for a severe allergic reaction can include epinephrine. If you have a severe food allergy, or have had severe allergic reactions even if you don't know the cause, you should carry this medicine with you for self-injection. It is available by prescription. It is also available in a lower dose form for children from your healthcare provider.

Home care

The following guidelines will help you care for yourself at home:

  • If your symptoms were moderate to severe, they may fluctuate for the next 24 hours. It may be best to rest at home during that time.

  • Don't use tobacco or alcohol because they can make symptoms worse. They can also interact with the medicines you are taking to treat the allergic reaction.

  • If you know what foods caused your reaction today, avoid them in the future. The next and each reaction after this may make your body more sensitive to these foods. This can cause a worse reaction later. Tell your family members, friends, and doctors about your food allergy, especially in an emergency situation since they need to know how to give you epinephrine if you are unable to. This can be lifesaving.

  • Learn how to read food labels so you can check for the substance that you reacted to. If a food does not have a label, it is best to avoid it. When in restaurants, ask about ingredients and tell the staff, "If I eat a dish containing (food you are allergic to), I could have a severe allergic reaction."

  • If your reaction was severe, get a medical alert bracelet or necklace that notes your allergy.

  • If epinephrine is prescribed, carry it with you at all times. Learn how to use the device. If you begin to feel the symptoms of another reaction, use the epinephrine to inject yourself right away, and call 911. Don’t wait until symptoms become severe.

  • Oral allergy medicines (such as diphenhydramine) are antihistamines that can help with the reaction. You can buy them at any pharmacy or supermarket. They come in liquids, pills, or capsules. Unless your doctor gave you a prescription antihistamine, you can use these medicines to ease itching. Allergy medicines can make you sleepy, so be careful, especially when driving or working. For this reason, you may want to use lower doses during the day and save the higher doses for bedtime. Don't use diphenhydramine if you have glaucoma or if you are a man with trouble urinating because of an enlarged prostate.

  • If allergy medicines with diphenhydramine make you too sleepy, talk with your healthcare provider. He or she can recommend an over-the counter antihistamine that won't make you sleepy. These may not work as well, though.

Follow-up care

Follow up with your healthcare provider if your symptoms don't get better over the next 2 to 3 days. If you don't know what caused this reaction, your provider may order skin tests and blood tests, or an “elimination diet.” You can find an allergy specialist in your area by contacting:

  • American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology, www.aaaai.org

  • American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology, www.acaai.org

When to seek medical advice

Call your healthcare provider right away if any of these occur:

  • Your symptoms get worse

  • New or worse swelling in the face, eyelids, lips, mouth, throat, or tongue

  • Mild trouble swallowing, breathing, or wheezing

  • Fever of 100.4°F (38.0°C) or higher, or as directed by your healthcare provider

  • Severe abdominal pain

  • Persistent vomiting (unable to keep liquids down) or constant diarrhea

  • Blood or mucus in the stool

Call 911

If any of these occur, give yourself injectable epinephrine and call 911:

  • Significant trouble breathing, talking, or swallowing

  • Any change in level of alertness or unconsciousness, including dizziness, weakness, or fainting

  • Cool, moist skin

  • Fast, weak heartbeat

  • Severe wheezing

  • Severe or worsening hives

  • Severe swelling of the face, tongue, or lips

  • Drooling

  • Vomiting that happens soon after eating a food you think you are allergic to

  • Explosive diarrhea

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