What is a food allergy? According to Julia Bradsher, CEO of the Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network, when someone eats a food she is allergic to, her body's immune system responds by, essentially, trying to start a fight. "The body creates these antibodies, and it reacts to food, and histamine and other chemicals that are sort of mediators in the immune system are released. That causes a hive or other symptoms of an allergic reaction," she says. "What's happening is the body is reacting to the introduction of the protein into the body and thinking that it's harmful, so it's attacking it."
If you think you have a food allergy, there is one very important thing you must do first: Make an appointment to see a board-certified allergist. Food allergies can result in serious medical complications and should be treated by an expert.
Next, begin a food diary. Record everything you eat, any symptoms that result and when they begin. This record of allergic reactions will be very helpful in determining if you have an allergy, how severe it is and the best way to treat it. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), these are main symptoms of food allergies:
- Tingling in the mouth
- Swelling in the tongue and throat
- Difficulty breathing
- Abdominal cramps
- Eczema or rash
- Coughing or wheezing
- Loss of consciousness
The most severe type of allergic reaction is anaphylaxis. After an initial exposure that produces a mild allergic reaction such as hives, a subsequent exposure could be a much more serious full-body reaction—including blocked breathing passages and dropping blood pressure. A person suffering from anaphylaxis requires immediate emergency care. When allergists suspect that a patient has a severe allergy, they may recommend carrying an EpiPen. This is an emergency dose of epinephrine—also known as adrenaline—which makes it possible for a person in anaphylaxis to breathe and boosts their heartrate.