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Food allergies on the rise in the U.S.

Posted at 7:40 AM, Nov 25, 2019
and last updated 2019-11-25 08:52:10-05

CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas — If you have a food sensitivity or intolerance, the reaction is triggered by the digestive system. When you have a food allergy, your immune system causes the reaction.

“A food sensitivity you might just feel a little bit of nausea, you might even have a little bit of vomiting," said Corpus Christi Medical Center Emergency Room Assistant Medical Director Dr. Kelly Campbell. "A person who has a food allergy to something like, say, peanuts, that is a very common allergy; you actually get a system wide response. You will get hives, itching, your mouth may become tingly and you will have trouble breathing.”

Food allergies are on the rise in the U.S., affecting nearly 15 million people. Every three minutes, a food allergy reaction sends someone to the emergency room.

“If you feel that you have any kind of problems breathing, if you have wheezing, if you have a rash over your body, if you any kind swelling in the airway, this is a medical emergency, and you need to get to the emergency department and be evaluated,” said Campbell.

People with food sensitivity can still eat the food without serious consequences, but for someone with an allergy, touching, inhaling, or ingesting even a small amount of the allergenic food like nuts, peanuts, tree nuts, walnuts, shrimp or other shellfish can be dangerous.

“And sometimes it is even so severe that your lips and tongue start swelling up, and you can actually go into what is called anaphylactic shock," said Campbell. "Anaphylactic shock is something where your blood pressure starts dropping, your heart rate starts going up, and you become unconscious. This is where, in the emergency department, we need to do fast action with certain medications and protecting that airway.”

And for people at home with these types of allergies, they should have an EpiPen close by.

“It is an epinephrine auto injector that you can take yourself," Dr. Campbell said. "This is life-saving for those folks who have these type of allergies.”

If you think you have a food allergy, there are ways to find out, such as taking a skin test. They are typically given by an allergist.

The most common side effects of a food allergy are:

  • Hives, usually accompanied by swelling and itching
  • Stomach pain and/or vomiting
  • Shortness of breath
  • Trouble swallowing
  • Swelling of the tongue
  • Dizziness
  • Anaphylaxis, a potentially life-threatening reaction that can impair breathing and send the body into shock.

Symptoms of intolerance are all digestive-related. These can include:

  • gas and bloating
  • diarrhea
  • constipation
  • cramping
  • nausea

How to Prevent Symptoms:

Learn which foods -- and how much -- cause you to have symptoms. Either avoid the food or only have as much as you can without triggering symptoms.

When you eat out, ask your server about how your meal will be prepared. It may not always be clear from the menu whether some dishes contain problem foods.

Learn to read food labels and check the ingredients for trigger foods. Don't forget to check condiments and seasonings. They may have MSG or another additive that can cause symptoms