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Shortness of Breath Caused by Food Allergies

written by: Genevieve Van Wyden • edited by: Tania Cowling • updated: 12/28/2010

Food allergies and shortness of breath can lead to dangerous medical risks. Beyond shortness of breath, look for itching of the mouth, throat, skin, eyes and other areas of the body, gastric symptoms, nasal congestion, difficulty swallowing, rash and swelling of the face, tongue, lips and eyelids.

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    Overview

    You eat a ripe, juicy, delicious mango. You’ve noticed before that when you eat mango, your mouth gets itchy and your face swells a little. This time, you start feeling shortness of breath after enjoying just a few bites of this fruit, so you stop. You may also experience a runny nose, nasal decongestion, stomach problems, difficulty swallowing, wheezing and other problems, according to Medline Plus. Food allergies are serious and potentially life-threatening. Do not ignore your symptoms. Seek emergency medical care and undergo testing for food allergies.

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    Food Allergies

    Food allergies and shortness of breath develop from ongoing exposure to a food such as citrus food, nuts, shellfish, eggs, soy, milk and other foods. At first, the reaction may be so mild as to be almost unnoticeable, but each time you eat an offending food, your symptoms become more and more obvious. If you suspect a food allergy, you should stop eating the food you react to because your reaction can become severe, according to Allergy Nursing. Food allergies and shortness of breath are potentially life-threatening; the shortness of breath is one symptom of anaphylaxis, which is characterized as a “severe, whole-body allergic reaction to a chemical that has become an allergen," according to MedlinePlus.

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    Shortness of Breath

    In an allergic reaction to a food, your body treats the food as if it is a harmful substance, according to Kids Health. Your immune system then produces antibodies to fight this food and the substance inside the food that causes your allergy. Your body can react to food allergens with skin reactions, gastrointestinal symptoms, fainting, lightheadedness, sneezing, coughing, wheezing and shortness of breath. If the reaction is severe, you may experience anaphylaxis.

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    How It Happens

    When you have an allergic reaction to a food, your body produces an antibody called IgE. Food allergies usually begin in childhood, but that doesn’t always happen. You can be a teen or an adult and develop an allergy to a food you’ve been able to enjoy eating before, such as shrimp, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts or some kinds of fruit. You have a food allergy when you begin to experience symptoms after eating the food – usually within two hours. In allergic reactions involving shortness of breath, other symptoms can include hoarse voice and wheezing, according to MedlinePlus. If you develop a severe allergic reaction, you may experience a drop in blood pressure and blocked airways that make it difficult for you to breathe.

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    Risks of Shortness of Breath

    Don’t ignore shortness of breath that is triggered by a food allergy. Your reaction can become more severe quickly, making it necessary for you to receive emergency medical treatment and an injection of epinephrine, which reverses the symptoms of a severe food-caused allergic reaction. When you are experiencing shortness of breath, difficulty breathing or a sensation of tightness in your throat (blocked airways), you’re already in a significant medical emergency. You need to visit the emergency room for additional treatment, according to Kids Health. It’s important to continue to watch for a second wave of symptoms (biphasic reaction).

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    Applicable Treatments

    The only effective treatment for food allergies and shortness of breath is to stay away from the offending food. Keep a food diary and note what your body’s reactions are to different foods; show this to your doctor and allergist. Probiotics and allergy shots have not been proven to help treat food allergies, according to Medline Plus. In the event of minor symptoms (stomach pain, runny nose or hives), an antihistamine can help. But the only truly effective treatment is to avoid the food altogether, according to Kids Health.

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