Food allergy symptoms can range
from mild to severe. Sometimes, a person may have a mild reaction to a food
allergen but then have a severe reaction the next time they are exposed.
Prevention is the best treatment
for food allergies. The best thing to do in the case of a food allergy is to
avoid the foods that cause the allergic reaction.
The Food Allergen Labeling and
Consumer Protection Act of 2004, which took effect January 1, 2006, requires
food manufacturers to disclose in plain language whether packaged products
contain any of the eight most common causes of food allergies or proteins
derived from those foods: milk, eggs, fish, shellfish, wheat, peanuts,
soybeans, and tree nuts.
This labeling law does not apply to meat, poultry, and
egg products, which are regulated by the United
States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Food Safety and Inspection
If exposure has already occurred,
there are medications that can help manage symptoms. However, if symptoms are
severe, go to the emergency room immediately. Severe symptoms include:
- difficulty breathing
- throat swelling
- chest pressure
- racing pulse
These symptoms can be indicative of
anaphylaxis—a serious, life-threatening situation that requires immediate
Common Treatments for Food Allergies
At times, you may not be able to avoid exposure to a
food or ingredient that triggers an allergy symptom. A tiny amount of peanuts
or some plant oils might be on a restaurant’s cooking utensils. Sometimes,
vapors from a neighbor’s dish or from the kitchen can trigger a reaction.
medications can help alleviate the symptoms of an allergic reaction.
For minor reactions, such as hives or
itching, a first- or second-generation antihistamine may help mitigate
symptoms. First generation medications include:
- brompheniramine (Dimetapp)
- dimenhydrinate (Dramamine)
- diphenhydramine (Benadryl)
- doxylamine (Vicks NyQuil)
Second-generation medications include:
- cetirizine (Zyrtec)
- desloratadine (Clarinex)
- fexofenadine (Allegra)
- loratadine (Claritin)
This drug can lessen an allergic reaction to a food if
taken before eating. Avoiding the food is, of course, a better approach, as
allergic reactions can change.
This drug is widely used in inhalers and nasal
medications for allergy symptoms.
These drugs may be effective in reducing such abdominal
allergic reactions as cramping, bloating, or nausea.
For a serious allergic reaction, such as anaphylaxis, you may
need an emergency injection of epinephrine (EpiPen, Anapen, and Twinject). This
medication can be administered by medical response teams, but is also available
as an auto-injector. This auto-injector is a single-dose combined syringe and
needle that should be carried around by anyone with a known serious food
Emergency Treatment for Food Allergies
Emergency Treatment for Food Allergies | Emergency Treatment
When Is Emergency Treatment Needed?
If mild symptoms worsen or if any of the
following symptoms are present, give yourself a dose of epinephrine and seek
emergency care immediately:
- hoarseness, throat tightness, or a lump in
- wheezing or difficulty breathing
- chest tightness
- tingling in the hands, feet, lips, or scalp
- dizziness, fainting, or a sudden drop in blood pressure
- racing pulse
These may be signs of a severe anaphylactic
reaction. This reaction can be life threatening and immediate care is
essential. Go to the emergency room at once or call 911.
Even after giving yourself an
injection of epinephrine, you should go to the emergency room.
According to pediatric allergist
and immunologist Dr.
Karen DeMuth, an injection at home is not enough: individuals may need
another dose or further treatment.
Action Steps for Emergency Treatment
It is important for you and
your loved ones to know what to do in case of emergency symptoms. Consider the
following action steps for the treatment of food allergies:
- Write a list of
what to do in case of an allergic reaction and put it on the refrigerator or
carry it with you when you are not at home. Include reaction symptoms and your
doctor’s advice for how to handle each symptom.
- Keep an epinephrine
auto-injector in a couple of different places.
- Keep two
auto-injectors on hand should one fail or be expired. An expired auto-injector
medication may not work properly. This could be life threatening should serious
symptoms arise. Be sure to replace expired medication.
- Be sure you know
how to use the auto-injector device and educate your loved ones as well.
- Consider wearing a
medical bracelet or necklace so others will know of your allergy in case of
- Continue on to the
emergency room even after using the epinephrine device. You may need further,
potentially lifesaving treatment.
Treatments Being Tested for Food Allergies
There are a couple of food
allergy treatments currently being tested.
This type of therapy involves
slowly acclimating the patient to the food allergen. This involves placing a
small amount on the patient’s tongue and/or having the patient swallow the
food. Amounts are then gradually increased until the patient is no longer adversely
impacted by the previously offending food.
This type of therapy works by
lessening the body’s ability to use IgE antibodies. The immune system creates
these antibodies when it encounters a particular food protein it deems
dangerous. The body then uses them to launch an attack on the “dangerous”
substance by creating the antihistamines and other chemicals that cause an
However, this therapy has been
linked with anaphylactic reactions, so more research needs to be done.
Alternative Treatments for Food Allergies
According to the Mayo
Clinic, a small number of studies have shown that herbal remedies (which
include some Chinese medicine blends) may help alleviate symptoms and even
prevent a severe reaction. However, little evidence exists to support the use
of herbal treatments in treating food allergies.
Mayo Clinic doctors advise
talking to your doctor before taking any herbal remedy. Some herbs can react
with current medicines, skew test results, or cause dangerous side effects.
Researchers at Mount Sinai
School of Medicine’s Jaffe
Food Allergy Institute, for example, are conducting ongoing clinical trials
using a formula called FAHF-2 (derived from traditional Chinese herbs) to treat
those aged 12 to 45 who were allergic to peanuts, tree nuts, sesame, fish,
and/or shellfish. Phase one of the trial showed that the herbal mixture was
well received in study individuals with multiple food allergies.