A food allergy is different from a food sensitivity or intolerance, but it can be hard to determine the difference. There are numerous reactions that one may have in response to an allergen, with a wide range of severity. To make matters even more confusing, a patient may not always have the same reaction when exposed to their allergen.
Food allergy symptoms typically occur within two hours of exposure, sometimes quickly enough to affect the patient within minutes. These symptoms may include any combination of itching, rashes, hives, nausea, vomiting, stomach cramps, wheezing, shortness of breath, persistent coughing, difficulty swallowing, tightness in the throat, swelling of the tongue/lips, shock, weakened pulse, dizziness, cyanosis (skin turning blue due to lack of oxygen), or anaphylaxis, a severe, life-threatening reaction that impairs breathing and may send the body into shock. Whether an allergy has been established or not, a patient should seek immediate medical attention when having a severe reaction that causes difficulty breathing, weakening of pulse, or loss of consciousness. If emergency medical attention is sought, the doctor will most likely run an allergy test while trying to determine the cause of the emergency. If a patient experiences any of the more mild of the aforementioned symptoms, he/she should make note of the reaction and what was eaten that day. If the patient notices reactions happening frequently, he/she should contact their doctor, who may recommend an allergy skin test or an elimination diet.
An allergy skin is done by a series of small pinpricks being made on the patient’s back, with a different potential allergen introduced to each prick. If an individual pinprick reacts, an allergy is confirmed. An elimination diet is a little trickier but less expensive. It is important to only attempt an elimination diet with doctor’s supervision, because reactions to food allergies may change. Having an itchy tongue when exposed to an allergen one time may evolve into breathing difficulties at the next exposure. An elimination diet involves avoiding all potential allergens for at least two weeks, then gradually reintroducing items, typically one a week, to see if symptoms reappear. Your doctor can help you determine which method is best for your individual needs.