Despite the widespread prevalence of food allergies and the15 million Americans diagnosed with a food allergy, food allergies still fall under the radar in spite of the fact that they are often a matter of life or death. In the U.S., one person goes to an emergency room every three minutes with a serious food reaction. Understanding food allergies and how to respond is the best way to prevent serious consequences.
What is a Food Allergy?
A food allergy occurs when the body’s immune system identifies food as a foreign invader and attacks it. Although some food allergy symptoms may mimic other health conditions and food intolerances, food allergies are very serious and can be lethal in some cases.
Currently, there are no cures for food allergies since science is still trying to discover what causes them. Until more information is available, the best treatment is an official diagnosis from a doctor, so that you can avoid the foods you are allergic to.
Symptoms of Food Allergies
Food allergy reactions occur anywhere from minutes to hours after you have ingested the allergic food. Symptoms range from mild to severe and vary drastically from child to adult. Many children may not have the vocabulary to describe what they are feeling or may describe their symptoms differently than adults.
Food allergy symptoms may cause mild or moderate reactions that include hives, rash, itchy mouth, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, sneezing, cough, or having a weird taste in your mouth. But, they can escalate quickly. The more severe and dangerous symptoms include swelling of the mouth, lips, or tongue that blocks breathing or causes difficulty swallowing as well as shortness of breath and wheezing, turning blue, a drop in blood pressure causing dizziness or fainting, losing consciousness, chest pain, weak pulse, and other serious signs that could lead to life-threatening anaphylaxis.
What to Do If You or Your Child is Has an Allergic Reaction
The first thing that a you should do is consult a physician if you or your child has an allergic reaction to food and make a plan to deal with mild, moderate, and severe reactions. Mild or moderate symptoms are often treated with antihistamines such as Benadryl or Zyrtec.
A severe allergic reaction like anaphylaxis requires immediate treatment with epinephrine. Epinephrine is a synthetic form of adrenaline and can reverse an allergic reaction. People with allergies can get a prescription for a self-injectable form of epinephrine such as an EpiPen. It is important to know how to use the epinephrine and carry it with you wherever you go. After treating yourself or your child, be sure to seek emergency medical care after an allergic episode.
Free Resources to Help Others Understand
FARE – Food Allergy Research & Education – is an excellent resource to help you navigate the world of food allergies. The organization offers many different useful tools for living with food allergies, including support groups as well as printable resources. . The organization offers a Food Allergy Action Plan, a very important plan that outlines everything parents, babysitters, and other caregivers need to know about food allergies, allergens, and the actions to take in an emergency.