Dizziness and Food Allergies

A surprising symptom of a potentially life-threatening reaction

Woman feeling dizzy sitting on a chair
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A number of different symptoms may occur when you have a food allergy and you eat something that your immune system responds abnormally to. Dizziness is one of them. That may surprise you, and, of course, there are numerous issues that can cause it (from dehydration to stroke). But, even if you can cope with it or attribute it to something else, it should be evaluated. In cases when dizziness is due to a food allergy, it could be a sign of anaphylaxis.

If you are experiencing dizziness, and especially if you have a food allergy, it's important to seek out a proper diagnosis from a medical professional.

IgE's Role

One main type of food allergy reaction is called an IgE-mediated reaction.

Under normal circumstances, IgE (which stands for immunoglobulin E) recognizes substances in the body that could be potentially harmful (for example, parasites) and signals cells to release a chemical called histamine. In the case of food allergies, though, IgE erroneously identifies a food protein as a harmful trigger. Histamine is then misguidedly released from cells all over the body.

This histamine release may lead to a variety of symptoms, which almost always occur within minutes to two hours of ingestion.

These symptoms can be mild or severe (even life-threatening) and include:

  • Dizziness, lightheadedness, or fainting
  • Trouble breathing, coughing, wheezing, or chest tightness
  • Red and itchy eyes
  • Hives or swelling (called angioedema)
  • Throat tightness, choking, trouble swallowing, or tongue swelling
  • Vomiting
  • Anxiety or agitation

Dizziness and Anaphylaxis

Anaphylaxis is a serious, potentially life-threatening reaction. While all sorts of foods can cause it, in adults, the most common triggers are peanuts, tree nuts, fish, and shellfish. In children, the most common causes of anaphylactic reactions are peanuts and tree nuts. 

Many are familiar with "classic" signs of anaphylaxis, including difficulty breathing and throat/tongue swelling. But it can cause other symptoms that are equally worth taking as warnings:

  • Low blood pressure and subsequent dizziness
  • Difficulties breathing
  • Throat and tongue swelling
  • Fast or irregular heartbeat

In severe cases, cardiac arrest and death may occur.

Even if you think they could be "nothing," it's important to seek immediate medical attention for dizziness and other symptoms of anaphylaxis, whether you think you have eaten or been exposed to a food allergy trigger or not. Call 911 and use your epinephrine autoinjector if you have one.

Dizziness and Other "Food Allergy-Like" Diseases

It is worthy to mention that besides a food allergy, dizziness may occur in people with celiac disease. While celiac disease is not classified as a food allergy, it does represent an abnormal immunologic response to a food protein called gluten.

Specifically, the dizziness may occur as a result of iron deficiency anemia (the small intestines is damaged and cannot absorb iron).

Finally, some people with food intolerances (e.g., lactose intolerance) may report dizziness as a symptom; however, food intolerance (which is not an allergy because the immune system is not involved) is more classically associated with gastrointestinal symptoms, like diarrhea or bloating. 

A Word From Verywell

Dizziness may be a symptom of a food allergy and can even signal anaphylaxis, which is very serious. Take the symptom seriously, but remember that there are many other potential causes of dizziness as well. This is why it's important to see your doctor.

If allergies are a potential source, an allergist can perform skin testing and/or blood tests and help you identify sources of the allergen, as well as help you devise a treatment plan. If they aren't, other causes, such as migraine and benign paroxysmal positional vertigo (BPPV), can be investigated.

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Article Sources

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