Home Medicine The Myth of the “Mild” Food Allergy

The Myth of the “Mild” Food Allergy

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Patients and caregivers describe their food allergies in all sorts of ways, but there’s only one term that worries healthcare providers: mild.

Patients often list off their food allergies, distinguishing one from the other by stating, “I’m allergic to peanuts and have a MILD allergy to sesame.” or “I’m allergic to egg and have a life-threatening allergy to dairy.”

Statements like these are very concerning to healthcare professionals. They know something they wish EVERYONE did: there is no such thing as a “mild food allergy.” ALL food allergies have the potential to be life-threatening.

“Mild” and “severe” are words to describe allergic reactions. Reactions come in all forms and they CAN be mild. But it is impossible to know when a mild reaction will snowball into a severe, life-threatening one, called anaphylaxis.

When patients experience some of the less severe reactions to food – such as hives, swelling, itching or an upset stomach, for example – they believe that this will always be their reaction to that particular food. People often confuse their mild reaction for a mild food allergy. This mistake is certainly understandable, but it leaves patients, caregivers, teachers, chefs and waitstaff underprepared when a life-threatening reaction does occur.

Unfortunately, severity differs from one reaction to the next. And even doctors cannot predict how a patient will react to an allergen. Not only do reactions vary between different patients with the same food allergy, but reactions can differ from day to day in the same patient to the same allergen from one reaction to the next. This is why doctors recommend that patients strictly avoid their allergens and ALWAYS CARRY two epinephrine auto-injectors with them at all times.

There’s a saying in the food allergy world that sums it up:

“Past reactions do not predict future reactions.”

In short: each food allergy is as serious as the next – and every one can turn dangerous with the next bite. This is not to stoke fear, but rather a call to be vigilant about reading labels, take proper precautions, carry your epinephrine and follow your individualized emergency action plan should you have a reaction.


As a reminder, here are the symptoms of an allergic reaction.

Mild SYMPTOMS include:

  • Sneezing
  • Runny nose
  • Itching (often in the mouth, nose, and skin)
  • A FEW hives
  • Localized rash/redness
  • Mild nausea/stomach discomfort

More severe symptoms include:

  • Trouble swallowing/Throat tightening or closing
  • Trouble breathing
  • Wheezing/coughing/hoarse
  • Feeling dizzy/faint
  • Skin turning blue/low pulse rate
  • Significant swelling of the mouth, tongue or lips
  • Repetitive vomiting/diarrhea
  • Widespread hives or rash
  • Sudden anxiety/sense of danger

If you experience any severe symptoms or are in doubt, administer the epinephrine auto-injector and call 911 immediately.

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