Tilapia: The Culprit of My Food Allergy Emergency
Last updated: March 2023
Memories of my food allergy emergency surfaced after hearing about a relative having a similar experience. Just months after being diagnosed with food allergies, I ended up in the emergency room from an allergic reaction. Even though that occurred over a decade ago, I can still recall how shocked and worried I felt.
Experiencing a random allergic reaction
While my relative reacted to brand-new food, I reacted to food I had eaten before. Actually, the allergic reaction I experienced occurred after I ate tilapia for the second day in a row at my parents' house. The fish was left over from our dinner the night before.
I had, in fact, eaten tilapia many times before then. I liked the light taste of tilapia compared to the stronger taste of some other fish. Tilapia also tended to cost less than other fish, making it an affordable way to add protein to my diet.
Hives appearing on my arms
The first symptom I noticed was hives on my arms. The red, puffy patches stood out on my skin. The welts ranged in size and shape, with some as big as coins.
I had never experienced hives from eating food before. I asked my mom about the symptoms. How fortunate I was to have her right there at the time. We acted right away. I ran cold water over some towels and pressed them against my itchy skin. My mom prepared a cool bath treatment with colloidal oatmeal.
Feeling nauseous and short of breath
Although the water soothed my skin, the hives continued to spread, and more symptoms developed. Nausea, diarrhea, and vomiting set in. I started feeling short of breath.
Was I panicking? Or was my trouble breathing a sign of a more severe allergic reaction? I really didn't know back then. I just knew I didn't feel well.
A trip to the emergency room
I remember telling my mom I was getting worse. The symptoms increased rather quickly. So, my mom drove me to a medical center in a nearby town. The staff in the emergency room hooked me up to an IV. I don't know what medicine the IV contained. I also can't recall if I got an injection of epinephrine or not.
Whatever the emergency medicine team gave me helped. The hives started to subside. But diarrhea and vomiting lasted a couple more days.
Talking to the doctor about allergies
I remember the emergency medicine doctor asking me lots of questions. I tried to explain my new diagnosis of food allergies and autoimmune disease. I could not think of anything unusual that I had eaten.
I had lots of questions of my own. How could I suddenly develop an allergy to a food I ate often? Why didn't I develop symptoms the night before when I ate the tilapia?
I remember being told that the tilapia most likely caused my symptoms. The allergen could have been the fish itself or something in it. I also learned that people could suddenly develop allergies to foods they have eaten in the past.
Leaving the hospital grateful but cautious
I felt very grateful when I left the emergency room. I appreciated the prompt medical care the doctors provided. And I was thankful to have a supportive loved one with me.
That day, I also left the emergency room as a more cautious person. I was more aware of how severe allergic reactions can get. I didn't know if something else would trigger similar or worse symptoms in me.
Avoiding tilapia and other types of fish
A lot of time passed before I tried eating fish again. Even though I have not reacted to any other fish, I don't eat fish nearly as much as I used to. And I have not eaten tilapia since.
I feel for those who go to the emergency room with severe allergic reactions. Landing in an emergency room for any reason can be a stressful experience. I have been there more than once for reasons other than food allergies.
Have you had an allergic reaction to tilapia? Did your reaction call for emergency medical care?
How often do you connect with others who have food allergies?