Food Allergy Symptoms and Testing

An estimated 32 million Americans have food allergies, leading nearly 200,000 each year people to seek emergency medical care for allergic reactions to food. While this impacts the everyday quality of life for those living with the fear of anaphylaxis, a recent study from Food Allergy Research & Education (FARE), McKinsey & Company, Northwestern University and Global Strategy Group, suggests that an even larger group of 85 million Americans is avoiding foods because of their, or someone in their household’s, allergy or food intolerance. Unnecessary avoidance of food due to an undiagnosed or misdiagnosed allergy not only impacts quality of life but also overall physical and mental health.

Food allergy reactions can range from mild to severe, and in some cases, they can even be life-threatening. Understanding the signs and symptoms of a food allergy is crucial for your or your child’s safety. The first step to taking control of your food allergies is to seek  a professional diagnosis, and ultimately an effective, safe, and rewarding treatment plan

What is a Food Allergy Reaction?

A food allergy reaction is a physiological response that is triggered by ingesting a specific food. What makes a food allergy reaction different from a food sensitivity or intolerance? While food sensitivities most often involve the digestive system, food allergy reactions can involve multiple systems and are triggered by the immune system. 

In a food allergy reaction, the immune system recognizes the food as a dangerous invader, and reacts as if it is fighting off an infection. An allergic reaction stimulates the release of chemicals (such as histamines), resulting in a variety of symptoms that can range from mild and uncomfortable to severe and life-threatening.

Mild to Severe Food Allergy Symptoms

Food allergy symptoms can spread throughout the body, including the mouth, hands, feet, skin, and gut. An allergic reaction may occur anywhere between a few minutes to a few hours after eating, triggering mild to severe symptoms. Some of the most common mild food allergy symptoms include: 

    • Mild itching
    • Mild hives
    • Abdominal cramps
    • Sneezing 
    • Watery or itchy eyes 
    • Itching or tingling sensations in the mouth

What is Anaphylaxis?

Severe food allergy reactions can quickly become life-threatening and result in anaphylaxis. Anaphylaxis occurs when the immune system sends a rush of chemicals to fight off the invading proteins, causing the body to go into anaphylactic shock. Once anaphylaxis occurs, an injection of epinephrine (adrenaline) is the only effective treatment. If anaphylaxis is suspected, inject epinephrine, and then seek emergency care.

Signs of anaphylaxis include: 

    • Wheezing
    • Shortness of breath
    • Repetitive vomiting
    • Widespread hives
    • Swelling in the lips, tongue, or throat
    • Weak and rapid pulse
    • Dizziness or fainting
    • Low blood pressure
    • Constricted airways
    • Difficulty swallowing or speaking
    • Difficulty breathing

The number of emergency anaphylaxis cases caused by food allergies is on the rise, increasing nearly 380 percent between 2007 and 2016. Consider using this downloadable form from FARE to create your own anaphylaxis emergency plan to ensure that you are fully prepared for accidental contact with or ingestion of a food allergen. 

Recognizing the Signs of Food Allergies in Children

An estimated 8 percent of children in the U.S. suffer from at least one food allergy; of that group, approximately 40 percent have more than one food allergy. Do you think your child may have a food allergy? More importantly, how would you recognize a food allergy reaction? Children have their own unique way of expressing themselves, and that includes expressing how their bodies are reacting to certain foods. 

Learning how to recognize the signs of food allergy in children can help you react immediately during an allergic reaction, minimizing time to get emergency care. FARE lists the most common physical signs of a food allergy reaction in children as:

    • Scratching or pulling at their tongues
    • Slurring their words
    • Change in voice (e.g., they may sound squeaky or hoarse)

Just as they have unique ways of showing they are experiencing an allergic reaction, children have equally unique ways of talking about it. The list below from FARE provides an overview of the types of phrases you may hear your child saying when they are experiencing an allergic reaction:

    • “This food is too spicy.”
    • “My tongue [or mouth] is hot [or burning, tingling, itching].”
    • “It feels like something’s poking my tongue.” 
    • “My tongue feels like there is hair on it.”
    • “My tongue feels full [or heavy, funny].”
    • “There’s something stuck in my throat.”
    • “It feels like a bump is on the back of my tongue [or throat].”
    • “My lips feel tight.”
    • “It feels like there are bugs in there [itchy ears].”
    • “My eyes are burning [or itchy].”
    • “My skin feels itchy.”
    • “My chest is tight.”
    • “My stomach hurts.”
    • “My chest is tight.”

If your child uses these types of phrases after eating, they may have a food allergy. In some cases, a child who is in the midst of an allergic reaction may only describe it as, “Something is wrong,” or “Something bad is happening.” If your child is exhibiting any severe symptoms (such as wheezing, dizziness, or severe swelling), seek help immediately, use epinephrine and call 911.

Food Allergy Testing at Latitude Food Allergy Care

There are four ways to clinically determine whether someone has a food allergy. These include:

Skin Prick Test

A safe and low-risk test in which the skin is lightly pricked with a suspected allergen.

Blood Test

Measures the amounts of IgE antibodies that the immune system has deployed as a response to a suspected allergen.

Component Test

A blood test that assesses whether a patient can tolerate certain components of an allergen.

Oral Food Challenge

A step-by-step process which determines, with certainty, whether a suspected allergen may safely be consumed.

A trained clinician should always administer food allergy testing to ensure that allergies are properly and safely diagnosed. Based on your unique symptoms and medical history, we will determine which form of allergy testing is right for you. Learn more about your options for food allergy testing and assessment at Latitude Food Allergy Care and what to expect from each form of testing.

Are you or someone you love impacted by a food allergy? Improve your quality of life and unlock a better future with Latitude Food Allergy Care. Latitude offers comprehensive food allergy care including diagnosis, treatment, and prevention, for babies, children, and adults. Contact us today to schedule a no-obligation conversation with one of our Patient Care Coordinators.


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