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Food Allergies

Dr. Dave Lambert, MD and Dr. Miguel Aquilera, MD
University of PennslyvaniaFood allergies occur in our population with rate of approximately 4-5%. The condition involves a hypersensitivity to an ingested substance that may be unique to the affected individual. A true allergy to food involves a response by the immune system that can manifest with a variety of symptoms. Even a small amount of an allergy-inducing substance can lead to symptoms.

Relatively benign symptoms can include scratchy throat, nasal congestion, runny nose, sneezing, red, itchy and watery eyes or hives. Gastrointestinal symptoms, such as tingling or itching in the mouth, nausea, vomiting or abdominal discomfort, may also occur.

More severe symptoms include swelling, which can occur anywhere on the body, but which becomes life threatening when air passages are affected, making it difficult to breathe. These symptoms can range from tightening of the airways with mild wheezing or severe asthma to swelling of the oral cavity (tongue, throat, lips) along with a rapid pulse and loss of consciousness all of which are part of a life threatening condition known as anaphylaxis. Profound hypotension or low blood pressure may also occur with rapid heart rate that may be difficult to examine.Common foods known to trigger food allergies include: milk; eggs; nuts; fish; shellfish; grains such as wheat, barley, oats, rye and corn; and soy, including edamame, tofu and miso. Gluten is also a common allergen and is found in some grains. Many prepared foods have gluten, wheat or corn in them. Other food additives like MSG may cause a variety of allergy symptoms.Treatment depends on severity of symptoms. Simple non-life-threatening symptoms can be treated with common over-the-counter medications such as decongestants, anti-histamines or topical hydrocortisone creams. Patients with history of asthma may require stronger medications if aggravated symptoms do not resolve with their usual medications.

Immediate use of an Epinephrine auto-injector is necessary for anyone experiencing difficulty breathing due to swelling of the face or tongue or severe asthma. This is a life-threatening condition known as anaphylaxis, and immediate medical attention is mandatory.To prevent symptoms, avoid known foods that cause problems. Prepared foods often contain a variety of substances. Learn what ingredients are included in your prepared foods. Read the labels on packaged foods. If you have a life threatening food allergy, wear a bracelet and inform your traveling companions.Simple non-life threatening symptoms can be tolerated with minimal impact on boating. They can usually be controlled with non-prescription remedies. Life-threatening symptoms such as persistent difficulty breathing or uncontrolled high or low blood pressure may require immediate evacuation to nearest medical facility for physician evaluation and treatment.


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