Many who believe they have food allergies actually suffer from food intolerances. Food intolerances cause symptoms of discomfort such as an upset stomach but are not deadly and does not cause true allergic reactions. On the other hand, food allergies can be dangerous to the point of being life-threatening.
Food allergy symptoms can range from mild to deadly. When the food is first ingested it can cause tingling in the mouth and swollen lips and advance to stronger symptoms such as stuffy nose, wheezing, shortness of breath, cramps, diarrhea, upset stomach, hives, dizziness, and lightheadedness.
In severe cases, the throat can close up and the face and glands can swell to the point where the air passages are cut off. Some patients can even suffer anaphylaxis - life-threatening reactions.
Because even extremely small amounts of the allergen can set off a serious attack, patients may have difficulty dining out. They must inform their server about their food allergies to be sure they don’t order something on the menu that might potentially harm them. They have to be extra careful in reading ingredient labels and warnings because any exposure to their trigger substance can be severe.
It is essential for those suffering from food allergies to be prepared to handle an attack at any time, and have available epinephrine autoinjector if history of severe reactions.
The most common food allergies include milk, nuts, eggs, fish (especially shellfish), wheat and soy. It is essential to diagnose a food allergy to determine which foods (and there can often be several) act as triggers. Normal food testing for allergies is done using skin or blood tests, followed by oral challenges to see if your body responds negatively to the presence of the food. Challenges are done in the physician's office under monitored conditions. Food is introduced in small quantities noting any reactions.
Avoidance is primary. Desensitization protocols are being developed. This is a big area of allergy research at this time. Education is important. Severe reactions may cause anaphylaxis and immediate treatment of reactions with auto-injectable epinephrine may be life saving. It is essential to know what is causing reactions and how to treat them.