When a person’s immune system suffers an adverse reaction due to the presence of any kind of food protein, then that individual is said to be suffering from a food allergy. Food allergy should not be confused with food intolerance.
Understanding Food Allergies
Although food allergies develop in childhood, in some rare cases even adults can suddenly develop an allergic reaction to certain types of foods. While some food allergies can cause mild reaction like hives other food allergies can be so severe that it can even result in death.
Nearly twenty five percent of the entire world population suffers from some or the other kind of food allergy. However only 8 percent of children younger than six years and 2.5 percent of adults suffers from what is called pure food allergies. These individuals suffer from severe bodily reaction by tasting or even swallowing the minutest amounts of the allergy triggering food item.
Foods Which Trigger Allergic Reactions
There are nearly 113 different kinds of food which have been known to cause allergic reactions. Foods which can cause allergic reaction, ranging from mild to severe, include eggs, milk, peanuts, different kinds of tree nuts like hazelnuts, walnuts, almonds and Brazil nuts, wheat, soya, fish particularly shell fish like shrimps, crab and mussels.
Symptoms of Food Allergy
If an individual eats any food item that he or she is allergic to, the symptoms begin to appear within an hour of eating the food item. The symptoms normally manifest themselves in the form of skin irritation, dysentery, vomiting and in extreme cases the inability to breathe properly. The region of the body that is affected by the food allergen depends on the area where the body releases the histamine.
While allergic reactions caused by food allergens can be classified as a mild reaction, instances where the person’s body goes into shock and the individual suffers from anaphylaxis can be described as the severest form of food allergy. The symptoms of food allergy can be broadly divided or classified into skin symptoms, respiratory symptoms, digestive symptoms and life threatening symptoms. We will study each of these bodily symptoms caused by food allergens in detail.
The skin problems caused by eating food which trigger an allergic reaction can vary from mild and short lived skin reaction to long term and chronic skin condition. One of the very first skin symptoms exhibited by ingesting a food allergen is severe skin itching. Sometimes the itching may be isolated to a certain part of the body or in other more severe cases the entire body of the person begins to itch rather violently.
Some of the common skin reactions caused by eating a food allergen are erythema, hives, eczema and edema. A person with a food allergy suffers from erythema, the condition which is characterized by the skin appearing flushed or red, due to the inflammation of the immune system. Typically a person with food allergy induced erythema will have raised red lesion or spots on their skin.
Hives is another short term skin reaction caused by food allergy. Also called urticaria, raised and itchy red welts appear on the skin. The lips and eyes will appear swollen and welts will appear around the face. This skin condition normally appears within an hour of eating the food allergen.
Sometimes eating a food allergen can result in the formation of scaly and itchy rashes which is known as skin eczema. In severe cases of food allergy, oozing blisters may also develop on the skin. Swelling or edema of the face or other body parts is also a common reaction to food allergy.
One of the first and commonly noted reactions to food allergy is mild itching inside the nose. Depending on the level of the allergic reaction, the itching inside the nostrils progresses to violent sneezing and cough. A person may also develop a runny nose. This is also called allergic rhinitis. These respiratory symptoms are the body’s natural way of reacting to the food allergen.
Some people may also develop wheezing. If the wheezing is mild then taking an antihistamine can help to control it. However if the person suffers from severe wheezing or experiences difficulty in breathing, then it is important to get medical intervention.
People who are extremely sensitive to certain kinds of foods may develop respiratory problems not only by ingesting the food but even by inhaling the food proteins which may be present in the form of minute particles in the air. Hence people with severe allergic reactions should stay away from the foods which can trigger extreme allergic reactions.
Digestive Tract Symptoms
People who consume allergy inducing food will experience a bloated or full feeling. This is an extremely uncomfortable sensation. Soon the individual may feel nauseous. In severe cases of food allergy, the person starts to vomit or throw up food violently. Diarrhea or loose motions are another unpleasant gastro intestinal symptom of food allergy.
Circulatory and Heart Symptoms
Sometimes food allergy can take a serious turn and affect the person’s circulatory system and the heart. The heart beat turns irregular. The person may also suffer from low blood pressure and may feel dizzy or appear weak. The person recovers from these unpleasant feeling as soon as the allergy inducing food passes from the system.
Symptoms of the Nervous System
Food allergy can affect the central nervous system and the affected individual may appear confused, dazed, or may have a horrible feeling impending doom.
One of the severest and often life threatening conditions arising from food allergy is anaphylaxis. The whole body is affected by anaphylaxis or anaphylactic shock. When several parts of the body which includes the skin, digestive tract and the central nervous system are affected by an allergic reaction it can cause the body to go into a state of shock.
Some of the common symptoms of anaphylaxis include difficulty in breathing, extreme swelling of the tongue and the throat, low blood pressure, irregular or slowing heartbeat and in extreme cases even cardiac arrest. If the person suffers from anaphylaxis, the person should be admitted into the hospital immediately to receive specialized medical care.