We often take eating and drinking for granted, but with food allergies estimated to affect 1-2% of adults in Australia and as many as 4-8% of children under 5, understanding allergic reactions and their consequences is important for all of us.
While it’s encouraging to know that the majority of childhood food allergies disappear in time, it is wise to remember that allergies can develop at any time in an adult’s life.(Healthline, Allergies)
The difference between Food Intolerance and Food Allergy
Unlike a food intolerance which involves just the digestive system and causes a person to feel uncomfortable or unwell after consuming certain foods, an allergic reaction to food occurs when the body’s immune system mistakes a certain food as an invader and releases chemicals to attack the source.
The immune system rallies support from all parts of the body to join the fight – skin, heart, lungs, gut. That’s why an allergic reaction can be life-threatening.
What triggers an allergic response?
The most common food triggers for an allergic reaction include cow’s milk, eggs, tree nuts, peanuts, wheat, fish, shellfish, eggs and soy products, but this isn’t an exhaustive list. With more than 170 foods known to have caused severe allergic reaction (including kiwi fruit, celery, banana, chicken and mustard) it is important to be cautious if any symptoms occur.
It’s important to be informed as food allergies can not only make life very difficult for sufferers but can also be life-threatening.
Signs of an allergic reaction
An allergic reaction usually happens within 20 minutes of eating an offending food as the immune system reacts.
Mild symptoms, such as sneezing, runny nose, itchy or watering eyes, swelling, rash, stomach cramp or diarrhoea might be evident.
A severe allergic response might include:
- wheezing or breathing difficulties
- hoarse voice or trouble speaking
- swelling of lips, tongue or throat
- itchy, blotchy skin and or rash
- light-headedness or dizziness
- young children may go pale, clammy or floppy
Left untreated, severe allergic reactions can cause the body to enter anaphylaxis, a potentially life-threatening condition.
Treatment of severe allergic reactions
Anaphylaxis is a condition requiring urgent medical attention so, in an emergency
- Call triple zero (000) immediately.
- Lay the person down and, if they have an EpiPen (adrenaline injector) and you are able to administer it, do so.
Be aware. Be prepared
Given the prevalence of food allergies in our community, becoming better informed about signs, symptoms and treatment is important for our own health and those around us.
It is important that you or your child have an updated allergy or anaphylaxis allergy plan. Our doctors can do one for you and explain it in detail. They can also show you how to use an EpiPen or adrenaline injector. We have trainer pens (no needles) that you can try. It is essential that if you or a family member has an EpiPen or adrenaline injector you are confident in its use.
Allergy & Anaphylaxis Australia is an excellent source of more information and provides tips about how to support a person in an emergency.
Further information can also be found at the following sources: