What Happens In An Allergic Reaction
An allergic reaction is triggered when the immune system mistakenly
overreacts to a food that it thinks is a harmful invader. This
overreaction causes symptoms that may appear within seconds to
hours after eating a trigger food.
Food allergies differ from food intolerances.
A food allergy occurs when the immune system reacts to a food protein causing
symptoms that can affect the respiratory system, gastrointestinal tract, skin,
and/or cardiovascular system. An intolerance is a metabolic disorder and does
not involve the immune system.
Fortunately, most allergic reactions are mild. They may cause
a runny nose, sneezing, itching skin, hives, and digestive upset.
For those who are severely allergic, exposure to a trigger food
may cause life-threatening reactions. The tongue, lips, or throat
may swell so severely that the person cannot breath. Death will
occur without immediate medical help. Unfortunately, sudden severe
allergic reactions (known as anaphylaxis) to food cause 200 deaths
annually in the United States.
Those that suspect they have a food allergy should seek medical advice promptly.
The prescription drug epinephrine, also called adrenaline, is
used to control severe reactions and must be carried at all times
by those at risk. An antihistamine should also be administered.
Call 911 in cases of severe food allergy reactions, even if epinephrine
has been administered and the reaction seems to be under control.
Strict avoidance of the allergy-causing food is the only way to
prevent a reaction. Reading ingredient labels of all foods to be
consumed and knowing alternative names for allergens (such as whey
and casein for milk) as well as preventing cross-contact of utensils
and hands are the keys to controlling food allergies.