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What Steps to Take After Being
Diagnosed with a Food Allergy
Food allergies can impact your digestive tract, but you can also suffer a respiratory reaction during a food allergy flare up.
If you are concerned that your food allergies are changing or getting worse, a consultation with your allergy doctor can help you design an eating plan that will reduce your symptoms and discomfort.
Learn to Read Labels
The many processed foods in our diets can contain small amounts of allergens that can trigger a reaction. For example, if you have a milk allergy, you will need to learn to look for words such as:
You will also need to learn what products contain casein, as even non-dairy products can contain this protein and may lead to a milk allergy response. Anything with the label artificial flavors may contain milk or nut products.
If you have a known sensitivity, label awareness is the best step toward avoidance. While a food intolerance can be frustrating and unpleasant, remember that it is not an allergy. If you are struggling with a food intolerance, you may need to see a gastroenterologist for concerns about gut health.
Learn to Cook from Scratch
As the risks of processed foods become more visible when you learn to read labels, you may find that your eating choices will be simpler and safer if you learn to cook from scratch.
As the most common food allergies include wheat, soy, dairy, peanuts and eggs building a cooking plan to make simple snacks and healthy meals at home that protect you from your allergen will take some research, but will make your risks much easier to control.
If your child is the one suffering from the allergy, the process will likely be more involved. Making sure that your child knows how to politely refuse chocolate if they are milk allergic and helping your child understand the first symptoms of an allergic reaction may save their life.
Keep a Journal to Track Your Symptoms
There are many people who suffer from food sensitivities as opposed to food allergies. While a food sensitivity can make you quite miserable, the symptoms are generally confined to the gut. You may suffer from cramping and diarrhea, but you will be able to breathe and will not get hives.
If you are concerned that an old food sensitivity is changing into an allergy, keep a food diary or journal to reduce the risk of a dangerous reaction. For example, if you have long suffered from a sensitivity to onions and struggled with digestive issues after eating them, pay special attention to your skin.
An onion allergy often manifests as a rash or as dry, flaking skin. If you have avoided onions to reduce the gut response but now find that your reaction is worse, you may have suffered damage to your gut lining and become even more sensitive. The transition from a food sensitivity into an allergy is quite rare, but an increase in the severity of a food sensitivity is not.
While tracking your food intake, make sure you list all ingredients and also track your symptoms over time. For example, if you are at risk of a milk allergy and have a history of a respiratory reaction, it may take time for the sneezing, coughing and itchy eyes to develop. List all food ingredients and also monitor your response in sixty minute intervals.
Consider an Elimination Diet
An elimination diet is something that someone with food sensitivities or a mild respiratory allergic reaction can do on their own to determine their triggers. It should be noted that if you are at risk of an airway shut down from any food, you may instead undergo a food challenge under the care of an allergist.
During a food challenge, you will be given a small amount of a food you are thought to be allergic to. If you do not react to the food, you may be given a larger dose in the future.
To properly undergo an elimination diet, you will need to avoid the food entirely for two weeks, then reintroduce a small portion and track your symptoms. Because there is a risk of anaphylaxis during the reintroduction of an allergic person, this reintroduction should be done under medical supervision.
For those with food sensitivities, it should be noted that the severity of a reaction can be altered by other foods you have eaten. For example, if you can generally tolerate wheat but occasionally have bad reactions, carefully review what you had with the wheat product. You may be able to enjoy toast and fresh fruit for breakfast, but suffer stomach upset when pairing toast and orange juice if the acid in the juice irritates your digestive tract.
Carry the Right Tools
If you suffer from food sensitivity and eat something that triggers it, you may taste it immediately or know the early symptoms well enough that you can take steps to tolerate the aftermath. While food sensitivities can be really unpleasant, you will generally have a bit of time to manage your reaction.
However, if you suffer from a food allergy that triggers a severe reaction, you may need tools including:
- an epi pen to get you breathing again
- a prescription antihistamine
- help to manage the dizziness that precedes anaphylaxis
If you already carry an epi pen or any such tool, make sure you keep an eye on the expiration date to avoid having an out-of-date pen fail when you need it most. Carrying Benadryl or a similar over the counter allergy medication can also protect you until you can get to your physician or get home to your prescription allergy medication.
A bad food allergy reaction can be quite terrifying. However, one reaction can also be the time to get the necessary testing so you know exactly
- what triggered your reaction
- what food names to watch out for
- how to make an eating plan that protects you going forward
Your food allergy testing may include blood, patch, prick or scratch test, though you may also undergo pulmonary testing after exposure.
Your food allergies can be managed, but first they must be understood. To get the best information to protect your health, book an appointment with Penn Medicine Becker ENT & Allergy for allergy testing that will give you the power to make informed decisions. Even if your food allergies are not considered severe, getting tested can help you make small adjustments in your life to make the condition simpler to control. Additionally, by getting on top of allergic inflammation, you can reduce your risk of secondary infection, particularly if you struggle with respiratory food allergies.
About the Author
Kathryn Edwards, MD, is a board-certified allergist and immunologist located in the heart of New Jersey. As part of Penn Medicine Becker ENT & Allergy, she specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of seasonal and environmental allergies, food allergies, skin conditions such as hives and eczema, and asthma.