What am I allergic to?


Yesterday I had an interesting medical emergency, around 2PM I started weezing and coughing and my throat became increasingly sore. After about an hour I could hear bubbling in my lungs, my face was swelling and my eyes were red and watery. I was starting to itch all over. At about 4PM I went into the bathroom and coughed up some blood, at which point I realized I need medical attention. Now.

So I went to the urgent care center of my hospital where Bendaryl and a steroid were promptly administered and in just a few minutes swelling started to go down and I could breathe normally again. Most of the symptoms were gone in a few hours after the benadryl shot and now I feel perfectly fine. I am going to make an appointment with an allergy specialist first thing monday, but I’m very curious as to what it was that set me off like that, to my knowledge I didn’t have any food allergies (only a mild allergy to bee stings but there is no way I got stung in didn’t notice). Somehow whatever it was I went over 20 years without encoutering or having a reaction to it, so this is puzzling me.
Here’s all that I’ve consumed yesterday:

  1. A cup of Schwepes tonic and ice in the morning around 9am. (Yes without gin, I just like tonic). I doubt that’s caused it since I drink it routinely.

  2. Around 12:30 I had lunch which was teriaky chicken and a couple california rolls. I eat teriaky, sesame and crab meat all the time and never had any reaction to shellfish or nuts/seeds.

  3. Around 1:50 I had some tea with a couple of sweets. This is where it gets interesting. A coworker brought some Israeli Earl Grey with him from Israel and this was the first time I tried it. I drink Earl Grey all the time, but I’ve never tried this brand. It was this stuff.

  4. Now the sweets I ate with my tea get interesting. They were given to me by one of our managers from Taiwan as a sample of taiwanese sweets and they were these cardboard wrapped rectangles of crumbly pastry with a rectangular area of jam on the inside. One was pineapple the other strawberry. I remember checking the ingredients list carefully because I hate red bean paste and I was making sure none was in there. Unfortunately I tossed the wrappers, so I don’t know the brand and don’t have the exact ingredient list. I’m pretty sure it was “Eggs, Flour, Yeast, Soybean Oil, Strawberry/Pineapple Jam” and that’s it. Now I eat all of those things routinely without any reaction, so I don’t know, but this is what I ate 10 minutes before the reaction started, so it’s the most suspect.
    Well that’s it. Any ideas as to what weird exotic thing I ate that caused that? Did I just develop a new allergy out of the blue (pineapple, shellfish, etc.)? It’s the same questions I’m going to ask the allergist but it’s saturday and I’ll take any guesses. I’m staying away from shellfish and nuts for now just in case.

Thank you,


You can’t diagnose this sort of allergy over the internet.

It doesn’t matter if you eat something routinely or not - you can develop an allergy to something you eat every day.

While staying away from shellfish and nuts is prudent under the circumstances, your trigger may not be a common allergen.

Please see your allergist as scheduled as he/she will be much more able to help you than anyone reading this board.

No, no ideas, but I had a similar experience. I have never in my life had an allergic reaction. Then one day at lunch, having one of them chicken sallads I often eat, I began to feel weird. Half an hour later, my heart was going like the ghost of John Bonham was haunting it.

My collegues insisted I got to a hospital, so I got a cab, went to the hospital, said, “I believe I’m experiencing an allergic reaction.” The nurse said: “Yes, I can see that”, literaly grabbed a doc and before I knew it they’d given me a few shots and I lay there under a blanket.

Everything was cool now, I was impressed by the professionals at the place, and luckily one of the doctor’s who happened to be there was a specialist on allergies, and after I answered his questions, he said that “These things can happen. It can be a result of a special combination of things you ate during the day. We’ll probably never know. I wan’t you to take [some pills] if it happens again, and *if * it happens again, we will investigate this further.”

I went home, and it has never happened again; this was a couple of years ago, and I’ve eaten the same dish since, at the same restaurant (livin’ on da edge, eh?).

I’m just telling you my experience; of course you should talk to a specialist —allergies kill people, as you know.

I’ve seen dozens and dozens of patients with severe allergic reactions for the first or maybe second time in their lives, and frankly I rarely find out what triggered it. I just treat 'em, and tell 'em if it happens often start keeping an exposure diary and we’ll consider skin testing.

I figure nearly everybody has a significant allergic reaction to god-only-knows-what at least once in their lives.

Getting tested is the only way to pinpoint what it could be, considering there is a serum made for the allergen that made you sick. Anyone can develop an allergy at any point in their life. The food you ate may not present any obvious clues; if, for instance, you had developed a corn allergy, corn starch in the teriyaki glaze on your chicken could trigger a reaction. It can be really tricky to figure out just what did it. So definitely get tested.

In addition to what others have said, it’s also possible that your allergy was to some additive or spice in one of the things you ate. Perhaps a cook put something new in there to try it out, or by accident. S/He may have been trying out something, or the food was cooked in oil that had previously been used to cook the allergen, or the food was placed on a counter or plate that contained a trace of the allergen. This sort of thing has been known to happen to folks with severe peanut allergies, for example.

Uncle John was a good and decent person, and would not have any ghost haunting anybody!

It is insulting for you to imply otherwise, and does not belong in GQ.

It might have been a preservative used in the sweets or tea. The same preservative may have been present in your lunch and you ended up consuming more than your body could tolerate. Because you now have a sensitivity to the substance, and because it might be commonly used, you might suffer the same reaction again. Until you see your allergist, get yourself a bottle of Benadryl or other antihistamine to carry with you. At the first sign of a recurrence, take a dose. It should stop the reaction.

Just general comments. Your statement is not true. Allergies are not dose related. If one has an anaphylactic reaction once, it means subsequent exposures will cause a similar or worse reaction.
One doesn’t react to an antigen with the first exposure. The body has to have “seen” the substance before to “recognize” it as foreign.
One can be exposed to a substance many times without a reaction, then react, we don’t know why.
Finding the specific cause is, as QtM said, sometimes difficult. The allergist may want to do scratch testing since you had a severe reaction, but even that may very well miss whatever it was. It might be something obscure, that you are rarely exposed to. You just have to stay observant and get attention if it happens again.

I would really not automatically recommend getting tested on the basis of one episode of allergic reaction. As I noted in my post, it’s very common to have such a reaction at least once in one’s lifetime. Also, as picunurse points out, skin testing is really quite low-yield in terms of defining an allergy, especially an idiosyncratic one. Skin testing is much better for identifying or ruling out multiple classes of antigens for those who have lots of recurrent symptoms.

If the single attack was severe, carry an epi-pen.