When Should I Go to the Healthcare Provider for Food Allergy Symptoms?

Food allergy symptoms, especially severe symptoms, are never something you can ignore. It's sometimes possible to treat yourself at home, but if you're not sure, or if these are symptoms you don't normally experience, you absolutely should err on the side of caution. In general, if you think you might be experiencing an allergic reaction, have your healthcare provider check out your symptoms. Call 911 or seek emergency medical care at the nearest medical facility if your symptoms involve throat swelling or trouble breathing.

The guidelines below will help you determine if what you're experiencing warrants medical care. You'll have to take each different situation on a case-by-case basis, but these general guidelines can help you determine which symptoms are likely to be associated with food allergies or severe food intolerances and whether you need to call the healthcare provider, or can treat the problem at home.

Food Allergies listed on package
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When to Call 911 Immediately

Call 911 or your local emergency number if:

  • you experience hives or swollen lips or tongue along with difficulty breathing
  • you experience changes in consciousness after eating
  • you experience two or more of hives, swollen lips, low blood pressure (which may make you feel woozy or cause changes in heart rate when sitting upright or standing), or abdominal symptoms (vomiting, severe nausea, or diarrhea) after eating
  • you have an asthma attack after eating that doesn't respond to your normal rescue medication, especially if you are also experiencing skin symptoms or swelling

These symptoms can indicate a severe allergic reaction called anaphylaxis. Anaphylaxis, or anaphylactic shock, is a life-threatening reaction that's sometimes triggered by food allergens. Severe asthma attacks also require immediate attention from a medical professional if they do not respond to rescue medication.

When to Call Your Healthcare Provider Right Away

Call your general healthcare provider or pediatrician as soon as possible if:

  • you experience swelling of the lips or tongue after eating
  • you wheeze or have difficulty breathing after eating
  • you have itchy hives over a large area of your body that appear soon after eating
  • a baby is experiencing severe difficulty with feeding (such as painful or bloody diarrhea, vomiting, or frantic crying after meals), or
  • you have digestive symptoms (diarrhea or vomiting) after eating that are severe enough to cause symptoms of dehydration

These symptoms often indicate a food allergy that has the potential to develop into an anaphylactic allergy if your body encounters the offending food again. Your healthcare provider is likely to recommend further testing as soon as possible and may want to prescribe emergency medication in case of another, more severe reaction. Infant feeding difficulties need to be resolved quickly for the proper growth and comfort of the baby.

Severe digestive symptoms can indicate food allergies or several other acute conditions (like food poisoning), but if these symptoms are severe enough to prevent you from replacing fluids, you may need treatment for dehydration in addition to an evaluation for food allergies or intolerances. Your healthcare provider may prescribe anti-vomiting or anti-diarrhea medication or may recommend you go to the hospital for rehydration treatments.

When to Talk to Your Healthcare Provider

Call your general healthcare provider or pediatrician to make an appointment if:

  • you have eliminated foods from your diet because you believe you may have an allergy or intolerance to them
  • your mouth itches after you eat certain foods
  • you regularly experience digestive symptoms (nausea, abdominal cramps, vomiting, or diarrhea) after eating
  • you regularly experience rhinitis (hay fever) symptoms after eating
  • a baby does not seem to be gaining weight or growing well
  • you have difficulties in swallowing or heartburn symptoms with eating, or
  • you regularly experience any troublesome symptoms that you believe may be associated with food

These symptoms could indicate food allergies (including a condition called oral allergy syndrome), food intolerances, a rare condition involving your esophagus called eosinophilic esophagitis, or other conditions that may be triggered by food (such as irritable bowel syndrome).

When you see your healthcare provider, expect a physical exam, discussion of your history and symptoms, and potentially in-office testing or referral to an allergist, immunologist, or gastroenterologist for further examination.

If your baby doesn't seem to be gaining weight (or if she seems to be losing weight), her pediatrician will want to examine her growth curve and may consider physical causes.

When to Try Home Treatment

You can treat your symptoms at home when you have hives over a small area of your body that aren't associated with other allergy symptoms (such as breathing difficulties, changes in heart rate, or wheezing).

Many people assume that food allergies are the only cause of hives, but hives can be caused by many triggers—heat, cold, stress, medications, infections, and exercise are others.

Mild cases of hives that don't cover much of the body and don't appear with other symptoms of a severe reaction can be treated with over-the-counter antihistamines such as Benadryl (diphenhydramine) to reduce itching and swelling.

Nonetheless, if your hives do not respond to several doses of antihistamine, cause severe discomfort, or if they appear every time you eat a particular food, they warrant a call to your healthcare provider.

A Word From Verywell

Food allergy symptoms that seem minor at first can sometimes worsen into a medical emergency. If you notice rapidly worsening symptoms, or if you experience difficulty breathing, you should seek help immediately. And if you feel as if something isn't quite right, even if your symptoms don't seem that bad, you should consider contacting your healthcare provider.

8 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. NIH MedlinePlus. Anaphylaxis.

  2. American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology. Anaphylaxis overview.

  3. American College of Allergy, Asthma, & Immunology. Food allergy overview.

  4. American College of Allergy, Asthma, & Immunology. When to see an allergist.

  5. American College of Allergy, Asthma, & Immunology. Oral allergy syndrome.

  6. American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, & Immunology. Eosinophilic esophagitis (EOE).

  7. American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology. Urticaria.

  8. American Academy of Dermatology Association. Hives: Diagnosis and treatment.

Additional Reading
  • Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network. "What is Anaphylaxis?" Internet Resource.

  • American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology. Food Allergy fact sheet.

By Victoria Groce
Victoria Groce is a medical writer living with celiac disease who specializes in writing about dietary management of food allergies.