On last week’s episode of “The Office,” Darryl explained his terrible luck: “I’ve never been lucky, and I’m not talking about the lottery. I’m talking about developing a soy allergy at 35. Who gets a soy allergy at 35?!” Unfortunately, this isn’t unheard of.
Most food allergies begin in childhood, but if you’re as unlucky as Darryl, you could develop one at any point in your life. While some food reactions can be minor, it is possible for them to be life-threatening if they affect the respiratory system and cause dangerous swelling in the airways, making it difficult to breathe. As food allergies affect 3% to 4% of adults, according to MayoClinic, it’s important to recognize and understand the symptoms.
Hives appear as red, sometimes itchy bumps on the skin within a few minutes to two hours after eating the offending food. Even a couple of bites of the food can trigger food allergy symptoms. Hives usually disappear on their own within 24 hours or less; if they don’t, it’s possible you may need medication or a shot, according to the National Institutes of Health. Hives can appear anywhere — which, if you’re like Will Smith in “Hitch,” can be totally inconvenient. Additionally, new hives can appear as old ones fade. The size of hives can range from the size of a pen tip to the size of a dinner plate, according to the American Academy of Dermatology.
Hives are not uncommon, and food isn’t the only culprit. Other instigators of hives include colds and bacterial infections; animals; pollen; insect bites and stings; medication; exposure to sun, heat, cold or water; exercise; stress; pressure on the skin (e.g., from sitting too long); chemical contact; scratching; and touching something you’re allergic to, like latex.
But if food really is responsible for your new red look, it’s probably not chocolate, thank god. The most common food triggers, according to the AAD, are milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts and shellfish. It’s possible to be allergic to only certain kinds of shellfish, like shrimp, crab, lobster, octopus, squid or crayfish; or — and this is my worst nightmare — you can be allergic to all shellfish.
Serious food allergies are no laughing matter. They can cause anaphylaxis, a constriction and tightening of the airways that can result in death. If you experience a swollen throat or feel like there’s a lump in your throat making breathing difficult, call 911 immediately. Severe anaphylaxis can cause shock with a severe drop in blood pressure, rapid pulse and dizziness, lightheadedness or loss of consciousness.
Other common food allergy symptoms
Don’t worry, it doesn’t get worse than anaphylaxis, though the other symptoms aren’t much fun either. Other signs of a food allergy include tingling or itching in the mouth; swelling of the lips, face, tongue and throat, or other parts of the body, a la Will Smith in “Hitch”; wheezing, nasal congestion or trouble breathing; abdominal pain, diarrhea, nausea or vomiting; and dizziness, lightheadedness or fainting.
For more info on food allergies, check out these resources: