Anaphylaxis is a serious, life-threatening allergic reaction. It happens when your immune system overreacts to a typically harmless substance, such as a food. Food allergies are a major cause of anaphylaxis in children.

Symptoms of anaphylaxis caused by a food allergy can appear quickly, sometimes within minutes of eating the offending food. The faster anaphylaxis develops, the more likely it is to be severe.

  • Know the symptoms. Common symptoms include throat tightening, a swollen tongue or throat, hives or itchiness, nausea and vomiting, and dizziness or fainting.
  • Know your triggers. After your first allergic reaction, see an allergist who can help pinpoint your personal food triggers.
  • Read all food labels. Look out for allergens as well as vague terms such as "spices" or "flavors" that aren't broken down into specific ingredients, such as turmeric, oregano or pepper.
  • Ask questions. When eating out at restaurants or other people's houses, ask the chef or the host about the ingredients and food preparation techniques.
  • Let others know. If you've had an allergic reaction to a food in the past, make sure your family, friends, and people at school or work know about it.
  • Clean thoroughly. Wash cookware, glassware, dishes and utensils after they've come into contact with allergens. For example, wash a pan you've used to panfry seafood thoroughly before using it to saute vegetables. Wash your hands and cooking surfaces as well.
  • Wear a medical alert necklace or bracelet. Make sure it clearly states what foods you're allergic to.
  • Always carry medication. Have an epinephrine auto-injector with you in case you're accidentally exposed to an allergen.

Anaphylaxis can be extremely dangerous. Knowing how to prevent it from happening, as well as recognizing its symptoms and knowing how to address them quickly, can save your life or the life of a loved one.

Mar. 04, 2014