There are more people with food allergies today than there were 20 years ago. Many people who do not have food allergies do not understand how serious or fatal food allergies can be. Some believe food allergies only cause minor symptoms like itchy throats, skin rashes and/or swelling of the tongue or mouth. However, it can be a lot more serious than that. For instance, a child with a severe peanut allergy who eats a cupcake that contains traces of peanuts at a Philadelphia, Pennsylvania restaurant can have a severe allergic reaction and go into anaphylactic shock.
Individuals who do not have food allergies need to have a better understanding of food allergies. Below is a list of terms that everyone should know and understand about food allergies:
Food allergy is an abnormal response to a food, triggered by the body’s immune system. There are several types of immune responses to food. The immune system treats a harmless food as a threat. The body then releases histamines in an effort to combat the threat. As a result, the individual suffers various food allergy symptoms.
Mild symptoms include itchiness in the throat, swelling of the mouth, and/or hives. Serious symptoms may be life-threatening, such as anaphylaxis.
An allergic reaction to food usually takes place within minutes to several hours after exposure to the food allergen.
An allergen is anything that causes an allergic reaction, such as peanuts, soy, wheat, gluten, etc.
An antibody is a protein in the blood that attacks foreign objects like bacteria or viruses.
For food allergies, the antibodies mistake some food proteins as foreign objects.
Acute symptoms are physical signs and reactions that begin immediately after being exposed to the food allergen and can last a short amount of time.
Anaphylaxis is a serious, allergic response that comes on quickly and is potentially life-threatening. Symptoms of anaphylaxis include severe itching of the eyes or face and progress to more serious symptoms including breathing difficulties, abdominal pain, vomiting, lowered blood pressure and/or swallowing difficulties.
Anaphylactic shock is the most severe and serious symptom of anaphylaxis. The individual’s breathing often turns to wheezing. The individual has extreme difficulties breathing and may pass out.
Hives are bumps on the skin that look like mosquito bites. They are very itchy and can appear anywhere on the body. Hives are caused by different things; one of them is an adverse allergic reaction to food.
Epinephrine is also known as adrenaline which can come in the form of an injectable medicine, such as Epi-Pens. Epinephrine helps individuals reverse life-threatening allergic reactions. It opens airways in the lungs and narrows blood vessels. Injection of epinephrine should take place immediately after a life-threatening allergic reaction begins.
An Epi-pen is a portable, disposable injection that contains epinephrine. Epi-pens do have an expiration date. Thus, it is important for individuals with severe food allergies to carry valid Epi-pens.
Cross-contact occurs when a food allergen is inadvertently transferred from a food containing the food allergen to a food that does not contain the allergen.
For example, cross-contact can occur when a knife used to spread peanut butter is not properly washed off. Rather, the knife is wiped off and traces of peanut butter remain on the knife. Later, the knife is used to spread cream cheese on a bagel for an individual who is severely allergic to peanuts. Though the bagel or cream cheese does not have any peanut ingredients, it now has traces of peanuts on it due to cross-contact.
Cross-contact is a new term that most people do not know about. People often use the term cross-contamination instead of cross-contact. See What is the difference between cross-contamination and cross-contact? Aren't they the same?
Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Emergency Care Plan
This care plan outlines treatment in case of an allergic reaction. The document is signed by a doctor and contains emergency contact information. It should be on file at school and used when traveling.
It is important to note there are other terms associated with food allergies. The ones provided here are the most common terms people use and should be aware of.