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Food allergy symptoms often are confused with food poisoning or food intolerance. Food poisoning is caused by contaminants found in food that otherwise would not provoke symptoms, and food intolerance is the result of the body’s inability to digest food properly, but food allergy symptoms are instead triggered by an immune-system response to a particular food or ingredient. Allergic reactions vary in severity and most often are no more than a minor irritant, but symptoms might become debilitating or even life-threatening.
Often, an allergic reaction is immediate, occurring within minutes of exposure, but some might take as long as an hour to be observed. Depending on the allergen, the patient might develop food allergy symptoms such as itching, hives, eczema, swelling or a rash. These reactions might be observed on the skin, especially on the face or neck, or in the mouth and throat. The patient might have difficulty breathing or swallowing.
Swelling of the throat is a particularly dangerous food allergy symptom. The patient might have difficulty breathing or swallowing, and if swelling closes the airway completely, the situation becomes life-threatening. A swollen tongue can create similar difficulties. As the airways become irritated, an asthma attack becomes possible as well.
As the allergen moves around the body, it might trigger other dangerous reactions. The individual might feel weak or lightheaded. Anaphylaxis, a sudden dip in the patient’s blood pressure, is another life-threatening condition that might result from food allergies.
When the allergen reaches the stomach, gastrointestinal food allergy symptoms might be noticed. Patients report symptoms such as stomach pains, bloatedness, diarrhea, nausea and vomiting. These symptoms are responsible for the common confusion with food intolerance symptoms.
Management of food allergies most often involves avoiding the allergen. In some cases, this might involve special measures such as careful reading of food packaging or asking about ingredients and preparations when visiting a restaurant. Depending on the severity of reaction, a doctor might advise the patient to treat reactions with antihistamines. People prone to severe reactions might need to wear a bracelet to alert first-aid responders and paramedics, and some might need to carry a special syringe loaded with an adrenaline dose for emergencies.
If food allergy symptoms are suspected, immediate medical care is essential. Observed symptoms might not seem particularly serious, but waiting for severe reactions to become apparent might delay emergency care until it is too late. Reactions perceived as food allergy symptoms might also be the result of food poisoning, which also can be quite serious.