Monday, September 6, 2010

Signs of a Food Allergy Reaction

by Kelley Lindberg

How do you know if someone is having an allergic reaction to a food?

Knowing the most common signs of a reaction can help you identify it correctly. Here are the most common symptoms to look for in a food allergy reaction, according to the Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network (FAAN):
  • A tingling sensation in the mouth
  • Swelling of the tongue and the throat
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Hives
  • Vomiting
  • Abdominal cramps
  • Diarrhea
  • Drop in blood pressure
  • Loss of consciousness
Typically, symptoms appear within minutes of eating the food, but sometimes it can take up to two hours for symptoms to appear.

Don’t expect to see all of those reactions at the same time. Many reactions may only display one or two of those symptoms. If you spend a lot of time with someone who has food allergies (such as a student in your class, a co-worker, or a scout in your troop), ask what their most common symptoms are and watch for those. But beware – allergic symptoms can vary from episode to episode, so try to be familiar with all the symptoms and watch for them.

Parents are usually the best at reading the early signs of a reaction, of course. For example, my son’s friend often gets itchy spots on the back of his neck as the first sign of an allergic reaction. That’s the kind of thing a stranger probably wouldn’t notice, but his mother can see that little tell-tale before anyone else can. But her son’s reaction can rapidly progress to include cramping, a rash near his mouth, welts if there was skin contact, or vomiting. All of these are signs I know to watch for if he’s staying at our house. They’re also signs I watch for in any child, now that I know they are common food allergy symptoms. Even if you don’t know someone well, being familiar with all the signs of an allergic reaction can help you identify what might be happening.

Now that you know what to look for, what do you do if you suspect someone is having a reaction? It’s pretty simple:
  1. Administer the person’s medication immediately. Usually you give them an antihistamine first (Benadryl, Allegra, Zyrtec, Claratin, etc.). If the symptoms get worse, administer the person’s epinephrine injection (EpiPen, Twinject, or Adrenaclick). Don’t worry, The instructions are usually printed right on the injector.
  2. Call 911 or a doctor and tell them you believe the victim is having an allergic reaction to food. Tell them what medicine you gave them.
  3. Get the person to medical help, and stay with them and watch them for 24 hours (even if they’re sent home). As the medication wears off, the reaction can come back, so it’s important to watch them for recurrences.
With some extremely sensitive people, it’s critical to immediately administer epinephrine without waiting to see if an antihistamine works. If the victim tells you to use the epinephrine right away, don’t hesitate.

Remember, I’m not a medical professional, so don’t take this information as medical advice – I’m just giving you some tips. Talk to your own allergist or medical provider for information specific to your own condition. And for more information about food allergies, their symptoms, their treatment, and other aspects, see FAAN’s website, For information on epinephrine injectors, see, or


Jess said...

My daughter had a reaction to peanut products (just a tiny nibble on the chocolate of a reese's peanut butter cup that was in our house less than 4 hours) and it took 45 minutes for her to start getting red, we gave benadryl and she got better but then another hour after that she was red from head to toe and hot to the touch. Like one large hive. We took her to the hospital and we were told that this was considered an anaphalaxis reaction. We hadn't given the epi pen because she wasn't having breathing trouble but they did. Plus a bunch of other IV meds and 24 hour observation in the hospital to watch for "rebound reactions." I just wanted to put this out there to let people know not to be afraid to administer the epi. We were told to do it not just for resp. compromise but the all ove redness too.

Kelley J. P. Lindberg said...

Jess, that's good info to know. I heard an allergist say that too many people are afraid to use the EpiPen, and that we shouldn't be afraid of it -- it's saving our children's lives! That was a really good reminder for me. Thanks so much for sharing your story.