Symptoms and Signs of Food Allergy

Medical Author:
Medically Reviewed on 1/5/2022

Doctor's Notes on Food Allergy

A food allergy is an adverse immune system reaction to a particular food or compound that a person eats or swallows. Signs and symptoms can begin within minutes, but some take hours to develop. Common symptoms and signs include

  • itching,
  • rash development,
  • hives, or
  • wheals.

Swelling of the lips and mouth may occur along with abdominal cramps, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. Nasal stuffiness and itching of the eyes are also common. Severe signs and symptoms include

  • difficulty breathing,
  • swelling tongue,
  • tightness or choking in the throat,
  • chest tightness,
  • rapid heartbeats,
  • feeling dizzy, and
  • loss of consciousness.

These signs and symptoms suggest the allergic reaction may be life-threatening.

The cause of a food allergy is the person's immune system overreacting to a compound (usually a protein) in the food. Foods that may generate an allergic reaction are as follows: eggs, milk, peanuts, wheat, soy, treenuts, fish, and shellfish. Some individuals have multiple food allergies.

What Are the Treatments for Food Allergies?

Treatment of food allergies is best done by avoiding the foods that cause you to have signs and symptoms. Severe allergic food reactions need immediate treatment with epinephrine (use an autoinjector like EpiPen), and the patient should be taken immediately to an ER. Some doctors recommend that you carry an unexpired autoinjector at all times and keep others at work or in your car.

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Kasper, D.L., et al., eds. Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine, 19th Ed. United States: McGraw-Hill Education, 2015.