About Food Allergies

Symptoms

An allergic reaction to food can affect the skin, the gastrointestinal tract, the respiratory tract, and, in the most serious cases, the cardiovascular system. Reactions can range from mild to severe, including the potentially life-threatening condition known as anaphylaxis. In the U.S., food allergy symptoms send someone to the emergency room every three minutes.

Symptoms typically appear within minutes to several hours after eating the food to which you are allergic. Keep in mind that children may communicate their symptoms in a different manner than adults. Read more about how a child might describe a reaction

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
  • Uterine contractions

Severe symptoms may include one or more of the following:

  • Obstructive 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 “thread” pulse
  • Sense of “impending doom”

Severe symptoms, alone or in combination with milder symptoms, may be signs of anaphylaxis and require immediate treatment.

Learn more about anaphylaxis.

How a Child Might Describe a Reaction

Children have unique ways of describing their experiences and perceptions, and allergic reactions are no exception. Precious time is lost when adults do not immediately recognize that a reaction is occurring or don’t understand what a child is telling them.

Some children, especially very young ones, put their hands in their mouths or pull or scratch at their tongues in response to a reaction. Also, children’s voices may change (e.g., become hoarse or squeaky), and they may slur their words.

The following are examples of the words a child might use to describe a reaction:

  • "This food is too spicy."
  • "My tongue is hot [or burning]."
  • "It feels like something’s poking my tongue."
  • "My tongue [or mouth] is tingling [or burning]."
  • "My tongue [or mouth] itches."
  • "It [my tongue] feels like there is hair on it."
  • "My mouth feels funny."
  • "There's a frog in my throat."
  • "There’s something stuck in my throat."
  • "My tongue feels full [or heavy]."
  • "My lips feel tight."
  • "It feels like there are bugs in there." (to describe itchy ears)
  • "It [my throat] feels thick."
  • "It feels like a bump is on the back of my tongue [throat]."

If you suspect that your child is having an allergic reaction, follow your doctor’s instructions and treat the reaction quickly.

Learn more about treatment.