15 Signs That You Might Have a Food Allergy
In a perfect world, we could eat anything and everything without having to worry about food allergies. But there are more than 170 foods that can potentially cause allergic reactions, so we have to be careful. Besides, about 32 million Americans — including 5.6 million children — are allergic to at least one food. And while food allergies usually show up in childhood, it’s possible for adults to develop them too. Yikes.
An allergy that starts later in life is called an adult-onset allergy. And these adult afflictions are becoming increasingly common, says the American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology (ACAAI). In fact, of all adults with food allergies, an estimated 45 percent of them developed the allergy during adulthood. It can happen even if the adult used to eat the food without any issues. Needless to say, with food allergies on the rise, recognizing the signs is crucial – no matter how old you are.
This is especially important if you’re trying a specific food for the first time. Or maybe you’re eating something you haven’t eaten since childhood. In either case, pay attention to your body after a meal. To get you started, let’s look at 15 possible signs and symptoms of food allergies.
Swelling can be a major red flag.
However, the swelling doesn’t have to be limited to parts of the body where the food actually touched, like the lips, tongue, or throat. According to MedlinePlus, allergy-related swelling can also affect other areas, including the eyes and skin (more on that later). If your tongue or throat is so swollen that you can’t breathe or talk, get medical help ASAP.
2. Itchy Throat
For many people, an itchy throat is one of the first signs.
You might also feel tightness and tingling, says the ACAAI. The reaction can make your voice sound hoarse (but not in a cool way). In some cases, the itching and tingling could also affect your lips and mouth. If you experience these symptoms, take an anti-histamine and drink cold water to soothe the irritation.
3. Trouble Swallowing
It’s not as simple as it seems.
Trouble swallowing, also known as dysphagia, can feel downright strange. You may feel like you have a lump in your throat or like your throat is tightening up. It might even seem as if you have food stuck in your throat, according to Yale Medicine. Pay attention if you also feel pain with swallowing, which could point to a more severe reaction.
4. Breathing Issues
The inflammatory symptoms of an allergic reaction can also affect your respiratory system.
For starters, the airways to your lungs can grow larger, making it hard to breathe as usual. And this can be especially dangerous if you have asthma, a condition that results in already-inflamed airways. Other respiratory symptoms include wheezing, repetitive coughing, shortness of breath, and trouble breathing. For people with asthma, these symptoms can trigger an asthma attack.
5. Nasal Congestion
If you have seasonal allergies, or if you’re allergic to dogs or cats, you probably know all about nasal congestion.
You might be surprised to learn that a food allergy can sometimes cause nasal congestion. Your nose might be runny or stuffy, or you might experience sneezing, says Food Allergy Research & Education (FARE). Yet, it’s important to note that a food allergy is unlikely to cause nasal congestion alone. You’ll likely have other symptoms, too.
If you’re allergic to a specific food, you could experience stomach pain.
But here’s where it gets tricky. Nausea is a common symptom of food intolerance (which isn’t the same as a food allergy), according to Cleveland Clinic. So, how can you tell the difference? Food allergies often cause itchy, irritating symptoms like a tingling throat and hives. If you have nausea in addition to these symptoms, you’re likely dealing with a food allergy and not just intolerance.
Don’t just assume it’s food poisoning.
Because that vomiting might actually be caused by an allergic reaction. Nausea, for example, can be so bad that it makes you throw up. Additionally, if your immune system reacts to food in a certain way, you might experience gastrointestinal issues like vomiting and painful stomach cramps.
Diarrhea is another possible symptom of a food allergy.
However, don’t be so quick to shake a finger at the last restaurant you dined at. Like vomiting, diarrhea could be caused by an allergic reaction to food. To best determine what’s causing the uncomfortable condition, talk to an allergist and give them a breakdown of what you ate beforehand. Until then, be sure to drink lots of water; dehydration is a common complication of diarrhea.
9. Itchy Skin
Contrary to popular belief, itchy skin isn’t only caused by skin allergies.
According to FARE, you can also develop itchiness after eating something you’re allergic to. The catch, however, is that the rash can be mild or show up hours after you eat the food. If you notice a mysterious new rash after a meal, know that a food allergy may be the culprit.
An allergy-induced skin rash may also include hives.
Foods like shellfish, nuts, and eggs commonly cause hives. These swollen red bumps, which are medically called urticaria, feel smooth and can vary in size. And while hives can be super annoying, they usually don’t last for more than 24 hours. They’ll also disappear (without leaving a mark) after you take an anti-histamine.
Sometimes, food allergies can cause eczema flare-ups.
While the symptoms of eczema are different for everyone, the skin condition often causes dry, red patches on the skin. Plus, the patches may feel scaly, leathery, or rough. You’ll also want to itch the heck out of your skin. But eczema flare-ups have many triggers, including pollen, animals, stress, and certain fabrics. An allergist or dermatologist can help you determine if your flare-ups are caused by a food allergy, though.
12. Skin Color Changes
During an allergic reaction to food, the color of your skin and lips might change.
Redness is a common symptom of mild to moderate allergic reactions. This symptom typically shows up around the mouth and eyes, but it can manifest as generalized flushing of the skin. If your reaction is mild, the redness should go away when you take an anti-histamine. More severe allergic reactions, however, might make your skin turn blue or pale.
When most people think of food allergies, dizziness typically doesn’t come to mind.
But according to FoodSafety.gov, an allergic reaction to food can make you feel dizzy and/or lightheaded. If these symptoms are particularly bad, fainting is also possible. Seek emergency help or have someone call 911 if you feel like you’re about to pass out, though. It could be a sign of a severe reaction called anaphylaxis.
14. Overall Weakness
An extreme allergic reaction can make you feel super weak.
In severe cases of a food allergy, your blood pressure can rapidly drop as the food proteins travel throughout your bloodstream. As a result, your organs and tissues won’t receive enough oxygen, causing a sudden onset of weakness. You might also feel confused and disoriented if this occurs.
15. Rapid Pulse
Don’t ignore severe alterations in heart rate.
Specifically, a rapid yet weak pulse is a concerning sign of anaphylaxis, according to Mayo Clinic. You might also feel a scary, foreboding sensation, something FARE describes as an “impending sense of doom.” And while it may sound intense, this is an accurate way to describe what can happen when a food allergy is incredibly serious. Anaphylaxis is life-threatening and requires immediate medical help.
Talk to your doctor or allergist if you have a history of food allergies or if you suspect that you’re allergic to a food. With their professional guidance, you can create a game plan to help you stay safe.