Food allergies range in severity from mild to severe. A person can have a sensitivity or intolerance to a certain food item, without having an allergy. Although the two are often confused for one another, there is a difference. Read below for some of the most common signs of food allergies.

An allergy is the body’s response to a certain item that it sees as potentially threatening. This response triggers the release of histamines, which causes itching and swelling that’s often seen with allergic reactions. Food intolerance, on the other hand, has to do with the body’s intestines not agreeing with what a person has ingested. Food intolerance symptoms generally are only digestive in nature.

Symptoms from a food allergy generally occur as quickly as a few minutes after ingesting the food item to a few hours after eating. While most food allergy symptoms occur the first time a person tries a new food, it is possible to develop an allergy to certain foods at any point throughout the lifetime.

The most common allergic symptoms people show when they have a food allergy include:

  • Itching, tingling and numbness in the mouth
  • Hives that can occur anywhere on the body, including inside the mouth
  • Pruritus or intense itching
  • Swelling of the face and mouth, but can occur anywhere
  • Nasal congestion or runny nose
  • Sneezing
  • Trouble breathing or wheezing
  • Diarrhea, nausea and vomiting accompanied by intense abdominal pain
  • Dizziness and lightheadedness

The above symptoms are generally not life-threatening and can be treated with over-the-counter medications. However, a person who has one or more of these symptoms from a food and continues to try the same food time and time again may eventually suffer from worsening allergic symptoms, including anaphylaxis. Signs of anaphylaxis include:

  • Swelling in the face that extends to the airway, thus inhibiting the ability to breathe
  • Hypotension or an extremely low blood pressure that can ultimately result in shock
  • Increase in pulse or tachycardia
  • Loss of consciousness

In the case of anaphylaxis, emergency medical treatment is necessary. Anaphylaxis is considered life-threatening.

Certain foods have a higher incidence of food allergies. These foods include:

  • Eggs
  • Peanuts
  • Tree nuts
  • Fish
  • Shellfish
  • Strawberries

In fact, approximately 90 percent of all food allergies reported in the United States are caused from one of the foods above as well as milk, soy and wheat.

Some people may suffer from something called an exercise-induced food allergy. While this sounds like something that may be imaginary, it is not. Exercise-induced food allergies occur when a person has eaten a certain food and then begin to feel lightheaded and itchy shortly after beginning to exercise. Some people may also suffer from anaphylactic-type reactions. Determining which food is the culprit and then eliminating that food prior to exercise will ensure the allergy symptoms don’t occur during exercise.

For those hay-fever sufferers, certain food items can wreak havoc on the immune system. Fresh fruits, vegetables, certain nuts and even some spices can cause a person to suffer from the same hay-fever symptoms that come with the changing seasons. In addition, these people will most often notice a tingling sensation in their mouths, along with an itch that just can’t be scratched. Those with the worst pollen-food allergies can go into anaphylactic shock as well.

The reason for the pollen-food allergy symptoms is that certain proteins in these food items closely mimic the proteins found in the pollen that a hay-fever sufferer is allergic to. Below is a comparison list of hay fever triggers to food triggers.

  • An allergy to birch pollen may cause pollen-food allergies for apples, carrots, celery, hazelnuts, peaches, pears and raw potatoes
  • An allergy to ragweed pollen may cause pollen-food allergies for melons, bananas and tomatoes
  • An allergy to grasses may cause pollen-food allergies for tomatoes
  • An allergy to mugwort pollen may cause pollen-food allergies for apples, celery, kiwi fruit, peanuts and certain spices

Regardless of the food that causes the food allergy, it’s important to recognize what type of reaction the certain food causes. Allergic reactions tend to worsen over time and each time a person is exposed to the allergen so it is worth getting tested for allergies as early as possible.

For seasonal allergy treatment, visit Careworks.

Author:  Michelle Holincheck, FNP

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