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What Every Adult Needs to Know About Food Allergies

According to a 2019 study conducted by Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine and the Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago, nearly half the adults who were found to have a food allergy (48%) had developed at least one of their allergies as an adult. Nearly 27 percent said that they had no allergies as children but had only developed them as adults. Although more than 38.3 percent of adults surveyed said they had been to the emergency room because of a serious allergic reaction, only 24 percent said they had a prescription for injectable epinephrine to counteract a reaction.

Food allergy symptoms can range from itchy skin, hives and diarrhea, to the most severe of these symptoms, anaphylaxis.

Anaphylaxis can occur within seconds, after exposure. Typically, your immune system produces antibodies that defend against foreign substances. This is good when a foreign substance is harmful, such as certain bacteria or viruses. But in some people, their immune systems overreact to substances that don’t normally cause an allergic reaction.

Anaphylaxis “tells” your immune system to go into overdrive and release a flood of chemicals that can cause you to go into shock — your blood pressure suddenly drops and your airways narrow, blocking breathing. Common triggers include certain foods, some medications, insect venom and latex.

Signs and symptoms of anaphylaxis include:

  • Skin reactions, including hives and itching and flushed or pale skin

  • Low blood pressure (hypotension)

  • Constriction of your airways and a swollen tongue or throat, which can cause wheezing and trouble breathing

  • A weak and rapid pulse

  • Nausea, vomiting or diarrhea

  • Dizziness or fainting

Anaphylaxis requires an injection of epinephrine and a follow-up trip to an emergency room.

Seek emergency medical help if you, your child, or someone else you’re with has a severe allergic reaction. Don’t wait to see if the symptoms go away.

If the person having the attack carries an epinephrine autoinjector, administer it right away, then call 911. When you call 911, make sure that you let the EMT’s know to bring epinephrine with them. Even if symptoms improve after the injection, you still need to go to an emergency room to make sure symptoms don’t recur, even without more exposure to your allergen. This second reaction is called biphasic anaphylaxis.

Other than allergic reactions, there aren’t many known risk factors for anaphylaxis, but some things that might increase your risk include:

  • Previous anaphylaxis. If you’ve had anaphylaxis once, your risk of having this serious reaction increases. Future reactions might be more severe than the first reaction.

  • Asthma. People with asthma are at increased risk of anaphylaxis.

  • Certain other conditions. These include heart disease and an abnormal accumulation of a certain type of white blood cell (mastocytosis).

The diagnosis and long-term management of anaphylaxis is complicated, so if you or a member of your family has experienced this reaction, you should consult with a doctor who specializes in allergies and immunology. Another good resource would be to contact an AllerCoach™.

As an certified AllerCoach™, I assist my clients with the daily management of food allergies in the home, at school, and in the workplace through personalized training, support, and education.

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