Food Allergy Symptoms Explained, Plus Treatment And What To Do Next

Watch out for these signs.

While a platter of fresh prawns is a dream dish for some of us, for others it’s a complete nightmare.

Shellfish is one of the most common allergies for adults to suffer from in the UK, alongside peanuts, tree nuts (such as walnuts), fruits and other fish.

While these foods are all very different to one another in taste, allergic reactions to any one of them may be similar.

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What is a food allergy?

According to the NHS, a food allergy occurs when the body’s immune system reacts unusually to specific foods.

“Food allergies happen when the immune system – the body’s defence against infection – mistakenly treats proteins found in food as a threat,” it says.

“As a result, a number of chemicals are released. It’s these chemicals that cause the symptoms of an allergic reaction.”

It’s still unknown why people develop allergies to food, although they often have other allergic conditions, such as asthma, hay fever and eczema.

What are the symptoms?

Allergy UK nurse advisor Holly Shaw says reactions to food allergies are not specific to the food type and can vary in severity.

“Allergic reactions to foods are individual to the person with the food allergy and may present in different ways,” she tells HuffPost UK.

“Allergic reactions are influenced by multiple factors including how the person was exposed to the allergen, in this case food (was it cooked, raw etc.), the quantity consumed, and timings.”

In addition to this, allergic reactions can be exacerbated by other conditions such as asthma, where the airway is already sensitive.

“Allergic reactions can be mild, moderate or severe, with the most severe form being anaphylaxis, which can be life threatening.”

Shaw says commonly, the skin is one of the first areas affected by a food allergy, but this is not always the case.

Mild-moderate allergic signs and symptoms include:

:: Swollen lips, face or eyes

:: Itchy / tingling mouth

:: Hives, itchy skin rash, red skin

:: Abdominal pain


:: Change in behaviour (common in infants and younger children)

Severe allergic reaction or anaphylaxis include:

:: Changes in breathing (persistent cough, difficulty breathing)

:: Change in voice, or a wheeze (noisy breathing)

:: Change in circulation (collapse/dizziness)

What’s the treatment?

There are two main types of medication that can be used to relieve the symptoms of an allergic reaction to foods: antihistamines for mild to moderate allergic reactions and adrenaline for anaphylaxis.

“Antihistamines work by blocking the effects of histamine, which is responsible for many of the symptoms of an allergic reaction. Many antihistamines are available from your pharmacist without prescription,” the NHS explains.

“Adrenaline works by narrowing the blood vessels to counteract the effects of low blood pressure and opening up the airways to help ease breathing difficulties. You’ll be given an auto-injector of adrenaline to use in case of emergencies if you or your child is at risk of anaphylaxis or had a previous episode of anaphylaxis.”

The three types of auto-injector are: EpiPen, Jext and Emerade.

What should you do if you suspect symptoms?

If you think you may be suffering from a mild or moderate food allergy, visit your GP who may refer you to a specialist for testing. The easiest way to avoid symptoms of a mild allergic reaction is to identify the food that you’re allergic to and avoid eating it

If you think someone has the symptoms of anaphylaxis and they are not well enough to use their auto-injector, the NHS advises calling 999 to request an ambulance.

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