Food allergies can be deadly, but not all physical reactions to food require a visit to the emergency room. Knowing when to call 911 and when you can treat a reaction with things in your home could save your life, as well as some money.
As many as 15 million Americans have food allergies, according to Food Allergy Research & Education (FARE). And these numbers are rising. Between 1997 and 2011, food allergies in children increased by 50 percent, and now they affect one in every 13 kids. Their prevalence is alarming, as are their potential effects.
Every three minutes, someone goes to the emergency room because they have a severe allergic reaction to food, resulting in about 200,000 ER visits per year. If you experience any of the following symptoms, get help immediately, as anaphylaxis can happen in a matter of minutes, even seconds:
- wheezing or high-pitched breathing
- difficulty breathing
- difficulty swallowing
- heart palpitations
- slurred speech
- swelling of the face, eyes, or tongue
- chest pain or tightness
- rapid pulse
- dizziness or lightheadedness
On some occasions, an allergic reaction to food may be less severe.
Occasionally, a food allergy is first discovered by a mild reaction. This may include tingling of the mouth and lips, hives or itchy skin, or upset stomach. Unfortunately, the list of home remedies for any allergic reaction is short.
1. Stop Eating
If your body is reacting to a food you’ve eaten, the first step is simple: Stop eating the food. Don’t “test” to see if the food is causing your symptoms by eating more, and don’t treat a mild allergic reaction nonchalantly.
Over the counter antihistamines may help lessen the symptoms of a mild reaction. Benedryl, for instance, could help combat hives and itching. But if the hives are a precursor to anaphylaxis, no over-the-counter antihistamine will help with this — only an injection of epinephrine will reverse anaphylaxis.
Some sources suggest acupuncture as a possible treatment for food allergies. This ancient Chinese practice utilizing small, painless needles in “meridian points” throughout the body has been shown to be effective for everything from weight loss to chronic pain, but the literature on food allergy treatment is limited.
The best way to fight a food allergy and avoid both mild and severe reactions is to know what you’re eating and to avoid those foods or substances that you’re allergic to.
If you’re unsure, your doctor can do a series of tests to pinpoint foods and substances that will trigger a reaction.
- Read labels and ask people what’s in food before you indulge.
- Make sure people around you know about your allergy, so if an emergency arises, they are prepared to help.
- Though the severity of some food allergies lessens over time, don’t test the waters by trying even a little bit of potentially dangerous food.
Finally, if you’ve experienced a mild allergic reaction to food, see your doctor. Your reaction may have been mild this time, but there is no guarantee you’ll be as lucky the next.