Food allergies occur when the body’s immune system overreacts to food you have eaten, triggering an allergic reaction.
Many people believe they have a food allergy, but in fact they have a food intolerance. Food intolerance is much more common than a food allergy, and while food intolerance can be uncomfortable (upset stomach) it does not involve your immune system and is not life threatening. Food allergies are a reaction to food by your body’s immune system, and can be very dangerous, even fatal.
While any food can cause an adverse reaction, eight types of food account for about 90 percent of all food reactions:
- Tree nuts
Symptoms of a food allergy can range from mild to severe. A food that triggered only mild symptoms on one occasion may cause more severe symptoms at another time.
Most food-related symptoms occur within two hours of ingestion; often starting within minutes. Food allergy symptoms can appear at any age, and you can develop an allergy to a food you have eaten for years with no problems.
The most severe allergic reaction is anaphylaxis which is a life-threatening allergic reaction that impairs your breathing, blood pressure and heart rate. Anaphylaxis can come on within minutes of exposure to the trigger food. Individuals with food allergies at risk of anaphylaxis carry an epinephrine auto-injector (EpiPen) which contains medication in case of an allergic reaction.
An anaphylactic reaction can involve any of the following symptoms:
- Hives, swelling, itching, redness, rash
- Rapid swelling of the throat or tongue, trouble swallowing
- Trouble breathing, coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath, chest pain/tightness, throat tightness
- Signs of shock
- Nausea, pain/cramps, vomiting, diarrhea
- Moist, cool skin, or profuse sweating
- Restlessness, confusion, or a sense of impending doom
- Turning pale/blue colour, weak pulse, passing out, dizzy/lightheaded, feeling faint
Having food allergies needs to be taken seriously – Even if you have been given an epinephrine shot, even if you feel better, call 911!
If you have any reactions to any food, be sure to talk to your doctor or healthcare practitioner.