Food and Drug Allergies
About 1 percent of adults are allergic to foods, especially peanuts, tree nuts (such as cashews, almonds, walnuts), eggs, shellfish, and other seafood. Allergies to milk, soy, wheat, and eggs are more common among kids. The most frequent drug allergies are to penicillin and other antibiotics. New evidence suggests that women may be more prone to food allergies than men are.
Symptoms can start within minutes to an hour of eating or swallowing the food or drug -- you may have trouble breathing or feel nauseated and experience diarrhea and/or vomiting. Itchy hives also start to surface in this short window of time -- during which you must immediately head for the emergency room and/or call 911. A food reaction can trigger anaphylaxis -- a life-threatening emergency that may begin with severe itching of eyes or face and progress within minutes to difficulty swallowing and breathing, mental confusion, dizziness and/or a quick drop in blood pressure. Treatment is an injection of adrenaline (epinephrine) to open airways and raise blood pressure. You may also need IV fluids, antihistamines, steroids, or other drugs.
There are no allergy shots or preventive medicines, but your doctor can prescribe an epinephrine self-injection pen (such as the EpiPen) -- a do-it-yourself shot to slow the onset of or prevent anaphylactic shock (still call 911 after using the pen). Since reactions are often worse the next time, always have the pen with you, keep an extra at home, and replace them each year. Also check the Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Network's Web site (www.foodallergy.org) for unexpectedly dangerous foods, like steak sauce made with anchovies. Have all drug allergies recorded in your medical records and wear a medical-alert bracelet or necklace.