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What are Severe Food Allergies?

By Patti Kate
Updated May 17, 2024
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Severe food allergies occur when the body's lymphatic system, which normally fights off foreign invasion and provides immunity, reacts adversely to a particular food that is consumed. This harsh reaction may produce serious or even life-threatening symptoms if not treated immediately. Patients may suffer from anaphylactic shock in cases of severe food allergies. Symptoms may include extreme abdominal pain, nausea and vomiting, and diarrhea. Hives and swelling on various parts of the body may also occur, as well as respiratory distress.

Those who suffer from food allergies must avoid foods that cause negative responses. Severe food allergies may be present from birth or infancy, or may develop later in life. Many newborns and infants experience severe food allergies, primarily to infant formula. In such a case, it is often recommended to switch the formula or change to breast milk. Breast milk rarely causes severe food allergies in infants, as it naturally contains antibodies for immune health and protection.

One of the most common food allergies is a peanut or nut allergy. In such a case, the individual cannot consume any foods containing nuts in any form, even trace amounts. Being aware of ingredients in foods, and aware of the dangers of cross contamination is vital for such individuals. Many others suffer from severe food allergies to seafood and shellfish. Other types of food allergies that can be extremely serious are reactions to wheat, soy, or dairy, including eggs and milk.

In individuals who experience severe allergic reactions, sudden symptoms such as airway swelling and obstruction, blood pressure drop, and even loss of consciousness may occur. For this reason, these individuals usually carry an emergency anaphylaxis kit at all times. An anaphylaxis kit typically includes emergency treatment supplies. Such medication could save a person's life in the event of a severe allergic reaction. Two of the most commonly prescribed medications for allergies are epinephrine and antihistamines.

If an individual suspects adverse reactions may be caused by a food allergy, it is essential to get a proper diagnosis from a physician. It is also crucial to understand that a true food allergy typically can produce more severe or life-threatening reactions than a food intolerance. A food allergy will involve the immune system reacting negatively to what it perceives as "invaders," while a food intolerance typically does not. The result of a food allergy may be acute respiratory failure if no action is taken. It is more common for people to experience food intolerance or sensitivity than a true food allergy.

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