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Holiday Celebrations Can Cause More Than a Hangover

Allergy and Asthma image

Some people end up with more than a headache following a holiday party. For many Americans, ingredients in both food and beverages can trigger allergy and asthma symptoms. These reactions can range from a mild rash or stomachache to swelling of the throat or difficulty breathing. While a food intolerance occurs when the digestive system is unable to properly break down the food, an allergic reaction to a food involves the immune system.

“There is a big difference between food intolerance and food allergy, and that difference can have serious consequences,” says S. Allan Bock, MD, FAAAAI, vice chair of the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology’s Adverse Reactions to Foods Committee. “Consuming a food you are intolerant to can make you feel miserable for a while. However, if you are allergic to an ingredient, your body’s reaction could be life threatening. During the holidays, it is very important that individuals who have been diagnosed with a food allergy not let their guard down when eating out and at parties.”

The growing confusion between intolerance and allergy can be avoided through proper testing and diagnosis. Your doctor will take a complete and detailed history, decide what testing is indicated, determine a course of action, and, if needed, create an emergency action plan.

It is crucial that food allergic individuals carry their emergency self-injectable epinephrine.

Signs of a food allergy include a rash or red, itchy skin; stuffy or itchy nose, sneezing, or itchy, teary eyes; vomiting, stomach cramps, or diarrhea; angioedema or swelling; and difficulty breathing, including throat closing, hacking cough (mimics choking at times), and wheezing.

Some people with food allergies can have a serious reaction called anaphylaxis. Signs of this kind of reaction include difficulty breathing, dizziness, or loss of consciousness. If you have any of these symptoms, particularly after eating, seek medical care immediately – call 911. Don’t wait to see if your symptoms go away or get better on their own.

“It is crucial that food allergic individuals carry their emergency self-injectable epinephrine. Almost all fatalities have occurred in people who accidentally ingested an allergen and had no way to treat it immediately. It’s also important to recognize that having asthma is an additional risk factor for a life-threatening event,” cautions Dr. Bock.


Source: American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology,

This article was originally published in Coping® with Allergies & Asthma magazine, Winter 2010-2011.