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Food Allergy Symptoms

Medically reviewed by Deborah Pedersen, M.D.
Written by Kelly Crumrin
Updated on October 19, 2021

In people with food allergies, the immune system becomes sensitized to the protein of a particular food or foods. Whenever you eat an allergenic food, your immune system mounts an attack against it that involves the release of inflammatory chemicals. These chemicals cause food allergy symptoms. Symptoms usually arise within two hours of eating an allergenic food.

Symptoms of food allergies vary widely in each individual and can change over time. Reactions may affect the body in different ways at different times. Reactions may be mild one day and life-threatening the next.

Since people with food allergies are also more likely to have nonfood allergies, asthma, eczema, and atopic dermatitis, it may be difficult to tell the precise cause of an allergic reaction.

Medications may help treat some symptoms of food allergy.

Types of Food Allergy Symptoms

Food allergy symptoms can impact many different systems in the body. The most common food allergy symptoms occur in the skin, respiratory system, gastrointestinal (digestive) system, and in the nervous system. The most dangerous potential symptom of food allergies is anaphylaxis.

Anaphylaxis

Anaphylaxis is a potentially fatal allergic reaction. Anaphylaxis often involves hives and swelling, which can tighten the throat and block breathing. Nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, and diarrhea may occur. The blood pressure drops, which may result in dizziness and fainting. The pulse becomes weak and rapid. Some people feel a sense of impending doom. Anaphylaxis can cause shock – inadequate blood flow that deprives tissues of oxygen — or heart attack.

If anaphylaxis is not immediately treated with Epinephrine, it can be fatal. As long as 12 hours after an anaphylactic reaction, some people have a second reaction known as a biphasic reaction. For this reason, the administration of Epinephrine must always be followed up by emergency medical treatment.

The eight major food allergens — eggs, fish, milk, peanuts, shellfish, soybeans, tree nuts, and wheat — are the foods most likely to cause anaphylaxis, but any food can cause anaphylaxis. Exercising soon after eating an allergenic food may raise the risk for an anaphylactic reaction.

Those who have had one anaphylactic reaction are at risk of having another. However, the idea that each allergic reaction is more severe than the last is not necessarily true.

Skin Symptoms of Food Allergies

Food allergies cause skin symptoms for many allergic people. A large number of people with food allergies also have other allergies and skin conditions that may contribute to dermatological symptoms. Skin symptoms of food allergies may include:

  • Eczema
  • Flushing
  • Hives
  • Itching
  • Rash

Respiratory Symptoms of Food Allergies

Food allergy symptoms that involve the lungs, sinuses, and respiratory tract include:

  • Asthma
  • Coughing
  • Itching throat
  • Sinus congestion
  • Chest tightness
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Rhinitis (stuffy, runny nose)
  • Runny nose
  • Sneezing
  • Wheezing

Gastrointestinal Symptoms of Food Allergies

Since food enters the mouth and travels through the gastrointestinal system, it makes sense that the digestive tract is often the scene of intense allergic reactions in those with food allergies. Gastrointestinal symptoms of food allergies can include:

  • Itchy mouth
  • Lip or tongue swelling
  • Mouth or throat tingling
  • Scratchy throat
  • Strange taste in the mouth
  • Throat tightening
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Hoarseness
  • Abdominal cramps
  • Diarrhea
  • Gas
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting

Cardiovascular Symptoms of Food Allergies

Food allergies can cause dysfunctions in the heart and blood vessels, especially during severe allergic reactions. Chemicals released by the immune system can cause the blood vessels to dilate (widen), which may result in:

  • Angina (chest pain)
  • Heart palpitations
  • Low blood pressure
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Weak pulse

General Symptoms of Food Allergies

Severe allergic reactions can cause anxiety and a feeling of impending doom. In others, food allergies can cause headaches, itching and watering eyes, or uterine contractions.

Condition Guide

Updated on October 19, 2021
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Deborah Pedersen, M.D. has specialized in allergy and asthma care as well as pediatrics for over 16 years. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Learn more about her here.
Kelly Crumrin is a senior editor at MyHealthTeam and leads the creation of content that educates and empowers people with chronic illnesses. Learn more about her here.

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