These reactions can range from a mild rash or stomachache to swelling of the throat or difficulty breathing.
While a food intolerance occurs when the digestive system is unable to properly breakdown the food, an allergic reaction to a food involves the immune system.
“There is a big difference between food intolerance and food allergy, and that difference can have serious consequences,” according to S. Allan Bock, MD, FAAAAI, Vice Chair of the AAAAI’s Adverse Reactions to Foods Committee. “Consuming a food you are intolerant to can make you feel miserable for a while. However, if you are allergic to an ingredient, your body’s reaction could be life threatening. During the holidays, it is very important that individuals who have been diagnosed with a food allergy not let their guard down when eating out and at parties.”
The growing confusion between intolerance and allergy can be avoided through proper testing and diagnosis by an allergist/immunologist. An allergist/immunologist will take a complete and detailed history, decide what testing is indicated and then determine a course of action and if needed, create an emergency action plan.
To locate an allergist, visit the AAAAI Physician Referral Directory at www.aaaai.org/physref.
Signs of a food allergy include:
- A rash, or red, itchy skin (hives/urticaria)
- Stuffy or itchy nose, sneezing, or itchy and teary eyes
- Vomiting, stomach cramps or diarrhea
- Angioedema or swelling
- Difficulty breathing including throat closing, hacking cough (mimics choking at times), wheezing
Some people with food allergies can have a serious reaction called anaphylaxis. Signs of this kind of reaction include: difficulty breathing, dizziness or loss of consciousness. If you have any of these symptoms, particularly after eating, seek medical care immediately (call 911). Don’t wait to see if your symptoms go away or get better on their own.
“It is crucial that food allergic individuals carry their emergency self-injectable epinephrine. Almost all fatalities have occurred in people who accidentally ingested an allergen and had no way to treat it immediately. It’s also important to recognize that having asthma is an additional risk factor for a life-threatening event,” cautioned Bock.
Visit www.aaaai.org for more expert advice from allergists who want you to enjoy the holidays and have a happy, healthy new year.
The AAAAI represents allergists, asthma specialists, clinical immunologists, allied health professionals and others with a special interest in the research and treatment of allergic and immunologic diseases. Established in 1943, the AAAAI has nearly 6,500 members in the United States, Canada and 60 other countries.