How Can You Prevent a Food Allergy Reaction?
As someone who is allergic to peanuts, I find it important to inform others on how severe and dangerous food allergies can be. Did you know that more than 50 million Americans have an allergy of some kind? Food allergies are estimated to affect 4 to 6 percent of children and 4 percent of adults, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
How much do you know about the potential dangers of food allergies? A food allergy is an immune system reaction that occurs soon after eating even a small amount of the allergy-causing food. This can trigger signs and symptoms such as digestive problems, hives, or swollen airways. According to foodallergy.org, an allergic reaction to food can affect the skin, gastrointestinal tract, respiratory tract, and cardiovascular system. Food allergy symptoms send someone to an emergency room every three minutes.
Symptoms of an Allergic Reaction: According to foodallergy.org, mild symptoms include the following: hives (reddish, swollen, itchy areas on the skin), eczema (a persistent dry, itchy rash), redness of the skin or around the eyes, itchy mouth or ear canal, nausea or vomiting, diarrhea, stomach pain, nasal congestion or a runny nose, sneezing, slight dry cough, odd taste in mouth, and uterine contractions.
Severe symptoms include obstructive swelling of the lips, tongue, and/or throat, trouble swallowing, shortness of breath or wheezing, turning blue, drop in blood pressure, loss of consciousness, chest pain, and a weak pulse.
What is Cross-Contract, Also Known as Cross-Contamination? According to foodallergy.org, cross-contact, or cross-contamination, happens when one food comes into contact with another one and their proteins mix, meaning each food contains a small amount of the other. The proteins may not be seen, but cross-contact can cause reactions even if the amount of contamination is small. If you have a food allergy and want to eat at a restaurant, you should always ask or call ahead, to make sure your selection does not contain any amount of a food that might trigger a reaction.
If food allergies are an issue in your household, use hot water and soap or commercial cleaning agents when cleaning silverware, plates, and other food surfaces, according to a study published in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology. The study showed that soaps and commercial cleaning agents effectively removed peanut protein from tabletops, while dishwashing liquid alone did not.
Anaphylaxis: Anaphylaxis is a severe, potentially fatal allergic reaction. Food allergies are the most common cause of anaphylaxis as well as insect stings, medications, and latex. According to foodallergy.org, eight foods in the United States account for most food allergy reactions: peanuts, tree nuts, milk, egg, soy, wheat, fish, and shellfish. Those who have asthma and a food allergy are at a greater risk for anaphylaxis.
Epinephrine (adrenaline) is medication that can reverse the severe symptoms of anaphylaxis. It is given as a shot with a self-injector and can be carried and used when needed. Even if you use the epinephrine, you should still be taken to the emergency room for further evaluation and treatment.
Anaphylaxis can cause difficulty in breathing or reduced blood pressure, causing the person to be pale, with weak pulse, confusion, and loss of consciousness. They can also experience skin symptoms, swelling of lips, and gastrointestinal symptoms, such as vomiting, diarrhea, or cramping.
To Avoid Allergens: Take allergy medications with you wherever you go. Also, shop carefully and always read food labels because they might change the ingredients. Look for the word “Contains” followed by the name of a major food allergen (usually at the very bottom of the label in bold). An example would be “Contains: Milk, Wheat…” – or if ingredients are in parenthesis, like this: (egg).
Manufacturers are also required to to list the specific nut (almond, walnut, cashew), or seafood (tuna, salmon, shrimp, lobster), that is used. The Food Allergy Labeling and Consumer Protections Act (FALCPA) of 2004 mandates that manufacturers of packaged foods produced in the United States identify the presences of the most common food allergens, according to the American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology (acaai.org).
You should also be on the lookout for labels that say “Processed in a facility that also processes….” or “Made on equipment with…”, or “May Contain…”, “Made in a shared facility…” which can indicate cross-contamination. But, there are no law requirements for these advisory warnings. You should always be on the lookout for these labels because there could be cross-contamination. I usually stay away from these foods because you never know if allergens might be present.
Talk to an allergist about how to use medication in emergencies. Make sure prescriptions are up to date and wear medical identification (bracelets, other jewelry) at all times. I have had that kind of bracelet since I was little and I never take it off. Don’t delay using your epinephrine by waiting to see if symptoms improve. Go to an emergency room to evaluate the situation right away. Also, don’t eat problem food if you can avoid it, since epinephrine is not “foolproof” treatment, foodallergy.org says.
Have two food allergy and anaphylaxis emergency care plan kits available: one that stays in the house where everyone knows knows its location, and one that travels with you wherever you go. You never know when or where you would need it. I leave one in my purse and one in my backpack for school, so I always make sure I have on me at all times. Practice proper food preparation to avoid cross-contact.
Even if you can’t have certain foods, it’s important that you know “what you can have.” If you can, try to plan social activities that don’t revolve around food. Inform friends, teachers, and family about the allergy, educated them on how to safely cook and serve food, and be very specific about what they can do to help you and support your specific needs.
If you know people with food allergies, enlist the support of family and friends and pay extra attentions to those who feel left out or unnecessarily restricted by food allergies. In my personal experience, I have sometimes felt left out because I couldn’t have foods that were being offered. For peanuts, it’s not that hard to avoid them, but for other foods, like wheat, it’s harder. So, be aware of what you offer to people, because you never know if they might have an allergy.
This list can prove helpful: it shows allergens for each allergy that you should avoid: