Medically reviewed by Saman Aboudi MD, Medical Director, PVHC Urgent Care & Occupational Medicine, Premier Family Medicine Associates
A food allergy occurs when the body’s immune system reacts unusually to certain foods. While many allergic reactions to food are mild, some can be fatal, so it is vitally important to know what to do in case of an emergency.
Many people who are at risk of a severe allergic reaction carry an EpiPen® with them at all times. An EpiPen is an injection that contains a chemical known as epinephrine and is used to treat severe allergic reactions allergens. Epinephrine helps to increase blood flow through veins by constricting blood vessels. By binding to receptors on smooth muscles of the lungs, epinephrine helps to relax the muscles blocking the airways and allows breathing to return to normal.
According to Food Allergy Research & Education, approximately 32 million people have food allergies. While some food allergies can be fatal, not every allergic reaction requires a trip to an urgent care or hospital; some can be managed effectively at home. The most common food allergies include cow’s milk, eggs, tree nuts, peanuts, shellfish, wheat, soy and fish.
Signs and symptoms of a severe allergic reaction
If you have any of the following symptoms, you are likely experiencing anaphylaxis. Seek immediate medical help:
Do not depend on antihistamines or inhalers to treat a severe reaction. Use epinephrine. It is the only medication that can reverse the life-threatening symptoms of anaphylaxis. If you do not have immediate access to epinephrine, please go directly to the nearest urgent care or emergency room.
- Chest pain or tightness
- Difficulty breathing or swallowing
- Dizziness or lightheadedness
- Heart palpitations or rapid pulse
- A severe drop in blood pressure
- Tightening of the airways (e.g., swollen throat)
- Slurred speech
Signs and symptoms of a mild to moderate allergic reaction
Most allergic reactions begin with mild symptoms, but it is vital to pay attention to your body and seek immediate medical attention should your symptoms begin to worsen. Here are common signs and symptoms of a mild allergic reaction that can be treated safely at home:
- Tingling or itching in the mouth or lips
- Hives or itchy skin
- Swelling (e.g., face, eyes or tongue)
- Vomiting, diarrhea or abdominal pain
Four things you can do to feel better at home
It’s important to have an allergy emergency care plan if you have food allergies. Here are a few things you can do at home to help you or a loved one feel better:
- Stop eating whatever you’re eating
If you begin to experience a mild allergic reaction, stop eating immediately. Repeated exposure to the allergen or food can actually exacerbate your reaction. If you’re eating a single ingredient (e.g., fruit or nuts) it will be easy to determine what is causing the allergy symptoms. However, if you are eating a selection of foods, play it safe and stop eating everything to avoid further complications.
- Take an antihistamine
Over-the-counter antihistamines, like Benadryl, can often help alleviate mild allergy symptoms. You can also try a nasal spray or eye drop, depending on your specific allergy symptom. Antihistaminesblock the effects of a substance called histamine in your body. Histamine is a part of your immune system and is normally released when your body detects something harmful, like an infection. It causes blood vessels to expand and the skin to swell, which helps protect the body.
- Try a saline nasal rinse
Carefully pouring a saltwater saline solution into one nostril at a time can help relieve nasal symptoms related to congestion, sinus infections, allergies, colds and flu. As it flows through the nasal cavity and into the other nostril, it washes out mucus and allergens.
- Apply a corticosteroid
Topical creams, like hydrocortisone, can soothe and treat skin rash symptoms related to food allergy symptoms, which may include redness, swelling, itching and discomfort. Corticosteroids work by activating natural substances in the skin to reduceswelling, redness and itching.
For more tips on managing your family’s allergies, contact Pomona Valley Health Centers at 909-378-8865. Our board-certified family medicine physicians are skilled in the diagnosis and treatment of allergic reactions to food, plants and insects.