If you can’t snack on peanut butter or go out for sushi, you’re not alone. Food allergies affect between 6% and 8% of children and 3% percent of adults.
A food allergy is when your immune system sees a food as harmful and overreacts. Symptoms of an allergy can appear within minutes of exposure and cause dramatic reactions. Symptoms can also occur up to two hours after eating the food. The most common food allergies are to cow’s milk, tree nuts, eggs, peanuts, shellfish, wheat, soy and fish.
Our allergists use the latest technologies and research to get you the answers you need to understand and manage your allergies.
At HealthPartners and Park Nicollet, we diagnose and treat food allergies in adults and children. Visit one of our clinics in Minnesota and western Wisconsin for help with allergies, including two asthma and allergy specialty clinics in Maple Grove and St. Paul.
Food allergies can cause many different symptoms. They can range from mild to serious. If you eat a food you are allergic to:
- Your mouth may itch and your throat may tighten as you start to eat the food.
- You may have a stuffy nose, wheeze or be short of breath when the allergens reach your mouth and lungs.
- You may have cramps, an upset stomach or diarrhea as the food is digested.
- You may feel dizzy or lightheaded if the allergens circulating through your bloodstream cause your blood pressure to drop.
- You may have itchy skin with red, raised bumps called hives as the allergens reach your skin.
Kids usually have the same symptoms as adults. But sometimes a small child just cries a lot, vomits, has diarrhea or does not grow as expected. If your child has these symptoms, see your doctor.
Some people have symptoms after eating even a tiny bit of a problem food. As a rule, the sooner the reaction begins, the worse it will be.
The most severe reaction is anaphylaxis. It affects your whole body. Anaphylaxis can start within a few minutes to a few hours after you eat the food. And the symptoms can go away and come back hours later. If you have anaphylaxis:
- Your throat and tongue may swell quickly.
- You may suddenly start wheezing or have trouble breathing.
- You may feel sick to your stomach or vomit.
- You may feel faint or pass out.
Anaphylaxis can be deadly. If you have (or see someone having) any of these symptoms, call 911 right away.
It’s important to figure out which foods cause your allergic reactions. Common tests used to diagnose allergens include:
During this test, your skin is lightly pricked with suspected allergens and monitored for allergic reactions. Skin prick tests aren’t painful and usually take between 20-40 minutes.
Once your blood is drawn, we’ll test it against possible allergens. Blood tests aren’t used as commonly as skin tests. They are used when someone has experienced a severe allergic reaction to food and a skin test might put them at risk.
Sometimes, we might recommend that you remove suspected foods from your diet for a few weeks. Then, you’ll slowly add different foods back into your diet one at a time. This makes it easier to link the specific food to your allergic reaction. This test is not suitable for people who have had severe allergic reactions to food in the past.
In a clinic, you will eat measured doses of suspected foods. We will increase the amount of food in each dose. In between each dose, we will watch for signs of allergic reactions. Once you show allergy symptoms, the test will stop. We will normally look for allergic symptoms like hives, rashes or flushing during this kind of test, and our team is prepared to administer medicines to stop the symptoms quickly.
The best way to manage your food allergies is to avoid the food(s) altogether. If you do accidentally eat some of the harmful food, the following treatments are often used to relieve the symptoms of an allergic reaction:
This is an injectable medicine that relieves severe allergic reactions like trouble breathing and swallowing (also known as anaphylaxis). We may recommend that you carry an epinephrine shot with you at all times to protect yourself in case of a severe allergic reaction. The shot is usually an auto-injector that injects medicine when pressed against the thigh. We’ll make sure you know how to use an epinephrine shot if it’s needed.
Antihistamines are the most common ways to treat allergies and are especially effective at treating symptoms like itchy skin, eye redness and hives triggered by food. Histamines are your body’s response to allergens and trigger allergic reactions. While antihistamines can relieve some of your symptoms, they cannot treat a severe allergic reaction to food.
Corticosteroids like prednisone help reduce swelling and inflammation caused by a food allergy. They are commonly used to prevent delayed phase reaction, which can occur around four to six hours after you’re exposed.
If you experience allergy symptoms immediately after eating, it may be time to see a doctor for help diagnosing the cause of your allergies. If you haven’t talked to a doctor about your food allergies before, you can get started with one of our primary care doctors. Primary care doctors are able to treat hundreds of conditions and can help you get started on a personalized treatment plan. Your primary care doctor can also refer you to one of our allergists.
No, you don’t need a referral to see an allergist. Allergists are able to provide the best treatment for people with a history of severe allergies and/or asthma.
It can be difficult to tell the difference between a food allergy and food intolerance. While symptoms can overlap, there are notable differences between the two.
Food allergy symptoms can be more severe. If you eat a food that you’re allergic to, your immune system will react – you can have symptoms throughout your entire body, like hives on your skin, a stuffy nose, an itchy mouth or breathing problems. A food allergy can also cause anaphylaxis, which can be life threatening.
Symptoms of a food intolerance can be bothersome but are usually limited to your digestive system. After you eat a food that you’re intolerant of, you may have gas, abdominal pain, nausea, diarrhea or constipation. A food intolerance can also cause headaches. These symptoms can be uncomfortable but are not life threatening – some people can even eat small amounts of the food without any symptoms.
Our allergy doctors can’t test for food intolerances. If you’re concerned about your symptoms, make an appointment with one of our primary care doctors. We’ll help determine if allergy testing is the right option for you.
No, our allergy doctors can’t test for food intolerances.
If you’re concerned about your reaction to certain foods, and if your symptoms aren’t life threatening, make an appointment with one of our primary care doctors. We’ll talk with you about your symptoms and determine if allergy testing is right for you.
We accept most health insurance plans, including Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota, CIGNA, HealthPartners, Medica, Medicare, PreferredOne and many others.
Not sure what your insurance covers? Call the number on the back of your card for help looking at your options.
Don’t have your card in front of you? Here are the member services numbers to help you get started:
- HealthPartners: 800-883-2177
- Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota: 800-382-2000
- CIGNA: 800-244-6224 (insurance through work); 866-494-2111 (insurance directly or through the Exchange)
- Medica: 800-952-3455
- Medicare: 1-800-MEDICARE (1-800-633-4227)
- PreferredOne: 763-847-4477 (in the Twin Cities); 800-997-1750 (outside the metro area)
- United Healthcare: 877-842-3210