While true food allergies are not the most frequently encountered medical emergencies, they can certainly be grave enough to pose a threat to human life. It is believed that almost 2-3% adults, and 6-7% of children suffer from some kind of food allergy. This discrepancy occurs as many children tend to outgrow their allergy with age.
An allergy is basically the body’s innate response to a substance that it perceives to be harmful. The substance may in actual fact be completely harmless. However as a defence mechanism, the body’s immune system triggers a response in order to rid itself of the alleged “allergen“.
A hyper-response is thus initiated in almost all parts of the body and many unwanted effects tend to accompany this. These present as symptoms. Although people may have allergies to a variety of things such as pollen, food, drugs these symptoms tend to remain similar, as the chemical reactions initiated in the body remain the same.
Signs and Symptoms of Food Allergies
Knowing the common food allergy symptoms, and taking early appropriate action can be life-saving.
Soon after a patient ingests a certain type of foodstuff they start developing a tingly, twitchy sensation around the lips and mouth. This may occur within minutes of the substance entering the mouth. Soon after, patients may feel that their lips and tongues are getting oedematous (swollen) and have difficulty communicating. A similar swelling can occur in the throat which causes breathing difficulty.
Other symptoms encountered by patients include the following, grouped according to where they affect:
- Swelling around the eyes and on the face
- Abdominal discomfort
- Abdominal cramps
- Irritation in the eyes
- Runny nose
- Chest tightness
Note that patients won’t usually encounter all of these symptoms. It is several of those listed, when they occur together, that points towards the diagnosis of an allergic reaction to foods.
When the allergic symptoms are severe, the process is known as anaphylaxis. This is a medical emergency which if left untreated, may be fatal.
The type of allergy described above is called an IgE mediated allergy. A non-IgE mediated allergic response also exists, in which the reactions do not became apparent until hours after exposure to the food. Redness, itching and hives may still appear. However, the symptoms may not progress very quickly and thus one may not make the connection between these and the trigger that caused the problems.
Note that the above signs relate to allergic reactions, and not to so-called food sensitivity or intolerance. These do not usually cause acute or possibly life-threatening symptoms. An example would be Celiac disease, a result of gluten intolerance.
Recognising Food Allergies in Children
Adults can usually recognize the symptoms within minutes; however the main problem arises when babies and toddlers suffer from allergic reactions. Babies can develop redness, swelling, watery eyes and rash soon enough after eating and additionally these signs are accompanied by an inconsolable cry.
Another commonly faced problem with food allergies is that they may not become apparent at the first time the substance is ingested. So, if you see any of the aforementioned signs developing, even after a certain kind of food that has been given to the child before, it would be best to see a doctor immediately.
The common food allergies in adults are to seafood (such as shrimps, crayfish, lobster, crab), walnuts, eggs and peanuts. Children in the other hand tend to be more sensitive towards milk, soy, egg, peanuts; however any kind of foodstuff can be a potential allergen.
Recognizing these food allergy symptoms and seeking immediate medical advice is extremely important and should be the patient’s or parents first priority.