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Common allergy terms

Antibody – a protein that locks onto anything foreign to our immune system and then triggers release of mast cells which release histamine into the bloodstream

Histamine – chemical released into the bloodstream during an allergic reaction causing certain systems in your body to have a reaction

Hives – a type of allergic skin reaction characterized by patchy areas of redness, swelling, itching… a rash that can look like raised patches of red welts

Eczema – persistent patch of dry/itchy skin rash

Wheezing – breathing with a whistling or rattling sound in the chest, as a result of obstruction in the air passages

Anaphylaxis – a severe allergic reaction to a specific food (less often medication, or insect bite) involving multiple body systems. Most often characterized by swelling of the airway, difficulty breathing, drop in blood pressure, loss of consciousness, and even death

Epinephrine – medication prescribed by your doctor in case you experience an allergic reaction. Injected by an “epi-pen” by a self or auto injector into your outer thigh muscle

Antihistamine – a medication used to suppress the effects of a histamine in the body and decreases mild allergic reactions

Food allergies

What is a food allergy?

A food allergy happens when your immune system believes that something you have eaten is harmful to your body. Usually your body works to protect you against germs, but in this case it views a specific food as a “germ”. In response to this “believed to be harmful” food, your body produces certain antibodies to protect you. These antibodies cause your body to release certain chemicals into your bloodstream. One of these chemicals is called histamine. Histamine causes the symptoms of an allergic reaction, involving your eyes, nose, throat, lungs, skin, or gastrointestinal tract. This reaction usually happens within about 1-60 minutes of ingestion. These antibodies that your body has made react every time you eat that certain food, causing an allergic reaction…you are now allergic to this certain food. The severity of that reaction can change over time.

Sometimes food allergies can be so severe that a person does not even have to ingest the food to react. Just touching or inhaling these particular food particles can cause an allergic reaction.

The following foods account for ~ 90% of allergic reactions: milk, eggs, peanuts, soy, wheat, tree nuts, fish, shellfish

What are the symptoms of an allergic reaction?

Allergic reactions can range in severity…from very mild and involve only one part of the body to life threatening, causing anaphylaxis. FARE (Food Allergy Research & Education) provides the following information on symptoms…

Mild symptoms may include one or more of the following:

  • Hives (reddish, swollen, itchy areas on the skin)
  • Eczema (a persistent dry, itchy rash)
  • Redness of the skin or around the eyes
  • Itchy mouth or ear canal
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Stomach pain
  • Nasal congestion or a runny nose
  • Sneezing
  • Slight, dry cough
  • Odd taste in mouth

Severe symptoms may include one or more of the following:

  • Severe swelling of the lips, tongue, and/or throat
  • Trouble swallowing
  • Shortness of breath or wheezing
  • Turning blue
  • Drop in blood pressure (feeling faint, confused, weak, passing out)
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Chest pain
  • A weak or “thready” pulse
  • Sense of “impending doom”

When to use your epi-pen… (your doctor will go over specific instructions with you)

An epipen should be administered when a person suspects they are experiencing anaphylaxis.

According to FARE, anaphylaxis often begins within minutes after a person eats a problem food. Less commonly, symptoms may begin hours later. About 25 percent of patients have a second wave of symptoms one to several hours after their initial symptoms have subsided. This is called biphasic anaphylaxis.

Anaphylaxis is highly likely to be occurring when any ONE of the following happens within minutes to hours after ingestion of the food allergen:

  • A person has symptoms that involve the skin, nose, mouth or gastrointestinal tract and either:
    • Difficulty breathing, or
    • Reduced blood pressure (e.g., pale, weak pulse, confusion, loss of consciousness)
  • A person was exposed to a suspected allergen, and two or more of the following occur:
    • Skin symptoms or swollen lips
    • Difficulty breathing
    • Reduced blood pressure
    • Gastrointestinal symptoms (e.g., vomiting, diarrhea, or cramping)
  • A person was exposed to a known allergen, and experiences:
    • Reduced blood pressure, leading to weakness or fainting

What to do

  1. Give the epipen
  2. Call 911
  3. Give Benadryl if on hand
  4. Click here for Allergy Plan for 4-11 year old children and 12 years and older.

When you should talk to your doctor

If you experience any symptoms of an allergic reaction, you should contact your doctor immediately. To determine if you have food allergies, your doctor may need to see you in the office to do a physical exam and ask you more questions. In addition, sometimes blood work can be done and a visit to an allergy specialist may be required to diagnose specific allergies.

How are allergies diagnosed?

If you suspect that you may be experiencing seasonal allergies, contact your doctor. He or she may have suggestions on how you should treat your symptoms or may recommend you see a specialist. If you are referred to an allergist, the allergist may do some tests to determine exactly what you are allergic to.

How to deal with food allergies

There is really no cure for food allergies. But there are some ways you can avoid having an allergic reaction.

Strictly avoid the allergen. Before eating anything become an expert on reading food labels. If you go out to eat inform your food server of your allergies and ask questions about dishes you are interested in. Make sure your teachers, friends, friends’ family, and extended family are aware of your allergies.

To treat minor isolated allergy symptoms like runny nose or hives your doctor may suggest you try an antihistamine medication.

If you are diagnosed with severe food allergies, your doctor may write a prescription for an epi-pen. If this is the case…


Are food allergies hereditary?

According to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America… “Allergies have a genetic component. If only one parent has allergies of any type, chances are 1 in 3 that each child will have an allergy. If both parents have allergies, it is much more likely (7 in 10) that their children will have allergies.”

Environmental allergies

The most common allergen is pollen.

Common allergens in the air include dust mites, mold spores, pollen from plants/trees, and/or animal dander.

Common symptoms of seasonal allergies include…

  • sneezing
  • itchy nose/throat/ears/eyes
  • eczema
  • nasal congestion
  • clear runny nose
  • coughing

How can I tell the difference between a cold and allergies?


  • Last about 7-10 day
  • Caused by a viral illness…symptoms worsen and then improve gradually
  • Occur year round
  • Accompanied by fevers, aches/pains
  • Colored mucus


  • Symptoms come on suddenly and last a long time
  • Seasonal timing
  • Itchiness… watery eyes, mouth, throat
  • No fever
  • No green/yellow mucus or discharge
  • Sometimes diagnosed based on pattern throughout the year

How to Reduce Exposure to Allergens (link to our preparation of allergy free environment handout)

  • On days when pollen or spore counts are high, try to stay indoors as much as possible.
  • Keep pets out of the bedroom
  • Avoid carpets that collect dust
  • Clean your living space frequently… eliminate dust, spores, and pollen settling on surfaces
  • Get dust mite covers for you pillows and bed
  • Keep your home windows closed during high pollen season (also drive with the windows closed)
  • Change clothes after coming in from outside
  • Wear long sleeves, pants, and a hat when possible
  • Take a shower before bed to wash off pollen from hair and skin

Medical interventions

Antihistamines – medication used to suppress the effects of a histamine in the body and decrease mild allergic reactions. May or may not require a prescription. Usually taken once a day, recommended right before bed. Usually in pill or syrup form, some are available in nasal spray.

Nasal Spray (corticosteroids) – these sprays decrease swelling and irritation in nasal passages due to persistent allergy.

Allergy Shots (allergen immunotherapy) – injections of a very small amount of a specific allergen. Helps your body gradually develop non-allergen antibodies. Facilitates other changes to your immune system that diminishes a reaction to an allergen, developing a tolerance. This can take as long as 12 months to be effective. This therapy can be used for specific environmental allergies, however not usually food allergies.