For many families, this is a simple question that will be asked and answered millions of times across the country today. But for the homes of the estimated 15 million Americans believed to have a food allergy, this question isn’t always a simple one to answer. Many families struggle to meet the specific dietary needs and restrictions that often accompany a food allergy diagnosis. From gluten to peanuts, food allergies and intolerances are changing the way families eat and making mealtime more complicated.
Odds are that each of us knew someone while we were growing up that had to deal with a food allergy. Most of the time, they were the kids having orange juice on their cereal because they were allergic to milk. But it is unlikely we knew anyone who was allergic to any other food. Fast forward to today’s kids, many of whom cannot bring peanut butter sandwiches to school because of the danger posed to other children who are allergic to peanuts. Such a dramatic shift in a single generation is enough to make anyone question the validity of such a sharp increase in food allergy diagnoses.
But the sharp increase in food allergies is supported by scientific research. For example, research indicates that the incidence of peanut allergies in children between 1997 and 2008 tripled. During that same 11 year span, the number of all food allergy diagnoses rose by 18%. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the incidence of food allergies during that same time frame increased by 18%. While science has yet to uncover why this is happening, it is clear from the research performed to date that the actual incidence of food allergies is increasing.
And that is message all of America needs to hear. Food allergies can come on suddenly and cause a severe reaction. Someone who has eaten peanut butter or milk or gluten –filled bread all their life can take a bite one day and experience an allergic reaction. While the severity of that reaction differs from person to person and allergy to allergy, it is something we must take seriously because some food allergies can cause anaphylactic shock which can be fatal.
As part of Food Allergy Awareness Week, we wanted to offer some guidance to all our readers on the common signs of a food allergy so that you can identify the difference between someone who suddenly feels ill, and someone who is having an allergic reaction. In some circumstances, seconds can be the difference between life and death and being able to spot a potential allergic response may give you the seconds you need to save a life.
Here are the most common signs of an allergic reaction to food.
- Itching – an itching sensation in your mouth, on your lips, or on your skin.
- Rash or Hives + Itching – some people develop a rash that can be very itchy
- Rash or Hives, no Itching – a rash that doesn’t itch can also signify an allergic reaction
- Swelling – sudden swelling anywhere that is not a direct response to injury
- Gastrointestinal Distress – vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain, nausea, cramping, and bloating
- Breathing – shortness of breath, wheezing, nasal congestion, and throat swelling/constriction
- Dizziness or Fainting – feeling dizzy or lightheaded and/or fainting
- Anaphylaxis is a severe allergic reaction that can cause very serious, sometimes life-threatening symptoms.
If you suspect someone is having an anaphylactic reaction you need to call 911 and get immediate emergency attention. The signs associated with anaphylaxis are:
- Airway constriction and tightening
- Throat swelling that impacts breathing
- Severe drop in blood pressure
- Rapid pulse
- Dizziness, lightheadedness, fainting, loss of consciousness