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10 Helpful Hints For Coping With Food Allergies

Published on Jan 21, 2011 with 0 comment

Living with food allergies is a challenging reality for many individuals.  However, do not despair! As you navigate the sometimes stormy waters of food allergies, it is important to know that you are not alone.  And, more importantly, food allergies are manageable. Knowing this, the following are some tips and recommendations that will help you meet the challenges of living healthily with food allergies.

1)  You are not alone.

Although having a food allergy can be a challenge, it should not be perceived as a stigma. While only 4-8% of the population have proven food allergies, up to 25% of the population perceive that they are allergic to at least one food item.  As a result, it is likely that you already know someone who is dealing with similar issues and challenges.

Recommendations: Visit other websites of organizations that offer a wide variety of food allergy resources. Start with the following: The Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Network, The Food Allergy Initiative, Kids With Food Allergies, Anaphylaxis Canada, and The Allergy & Asthma Network Mothers of Asthmatics.

Additionally, there may be food allergy support groups in your neighborhood or city. There are also support groups that can be found on the internet where you can discuss your food allergy with others who face similar challenges. Such online support groups can be found through internet providers such as Yahoo, AOL, and Google.

2)  Avoidance is the only treatment.

Simply put, if you do not eat or come into contact with the particular food(s) to which you are allergic, you will not have a reaction.

While it is possible that many individuals will “outgrow” their food allergy, it is very dangerous to experiment in order to see if one can eat a food to which they previously reacted.  Remember, in some circumstances, even the smallest amount of exposure can lead to a serious, life-threatening reaction. Your allergy specialist is the only person who should determine when it is safe to introduce such items in to one’s diet, and food challenges should only be done under the supervision of your allergist.

Recommendation: Never dabble or cheat with a food that your physician recommended that you avoid. Additionally, an individual should never try to “detoxify” , “desensitize”, or challenge oneself.

3)  Do not assume that a food item is safe.

Always check all ingredients to verify that a food product does not contain your particular allergen. In fact, one should approach all food items with some suspicion that there could be a hidden ingredient.  In particular,  be especially suspicious of pastries, sauces. Such foods commonly have multiple ingredients and the ingredients can change during the cooking, preparation, or manufacturing process. Additionally, it is important to remember that one can never assume that a restaurant or food service establishment properly labeled the ingredients on their menu.

Recommendation:  When possible, always ask how an item is prepared, and try to ascertain if there has been any contact with other items that may cause cross-contamination.  Be proactive when dining at a restaurant or food establishment by bringing cards that clearly list your particular food allergen and ask the wait staff to clarify the ingredients of each dish.  If you are served an item that you suspect contains your food allergen, do not eat it. If you cannot confirm that the food item is safe to eat, it is best to avoid eating it altogether.

4) Read Labels Carefully.

Starting in 2006, the Federal Government mandated that all packaged goods containing milk, egg, wheat, soy, fish, shellfish, peanut or tree nut be labeled in plain English in order to alert potentially allergic consumers of their contents.

Recommendation: Make sure you read the labels of all packaged goods, even those very familiar to you, because manufacturers do change ingredients from time to time. Despite the 2006 labeling laws, it is still important to learn about the alternative ways that the food industry labels food products. This is a potentially life-saving skill to have. The Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Network’s website provides a quick tutorial on the details of food labeling (Click here to download the PDF).

5) Always carry with you your emergency medications, especially self-injectable epinephrine (EpiPen or Twinject).

It is surprising that in nearly every study of known food allergic individuals, many allergic individuals simply do not comply with the recommendation to have epinephrine with them at all times.  Epinephrine is a drug that can rapidly reverse skin, cardiac, respiratory and gastrointestinal symptoms in an acute allergic reaction. As a result, Epinephrine is potentially lifesaving.  In fact, in studies of food allergy related fatalities, lack of available epinephrine was almost always associated with the fatality.  Moreover, lack of receiving any emergency medication has been associated with an increased severity of reaction.

Recommendation: Always have emergency medication, especially epinephrine, available in the event of a reaction.

6) Learn to use your Epinephrine device, use the device promptly after a reaction occurs, and teach others to use it.

Quite surprisingly, it is not uncommon for individuals to be given these devices without a demonstration of how to use them. It is important not only that the food allergic individual know how to use the device, but that the people who are in close daily contact with the food allergic individual be trained and comfortable with the use of the device as well.  This includes teachers, school administration, co-workers, and family members.

Knowing how to use the device, however, does not guarantee that the device is used in appropriate situations.  Unfortunately, there is much data that suggests that even when an auto-injecting epinephrine device is available, it is under-utilized.  Delay in receiving epinephrine has been shown to increase the potential for a life-threatening reaction, and has been associated with food allergy related fatalities.  Parents or other care providers of food allergic children should not be afraid of using the epinephrine device out of fear of having to give their child an injection. The risk of not administering epinephrine is much greater than the risk of giving it unnecessarily.

Recommendation: First, make sure you and those who are in close daily contact with the food allergic individual know how to use the Epinephrine device. Click on this link  to view a video demonstration of how to use both devices sold in the US, EpiPen and Twinject. Additionally, both companies provide free how-to-use DVD’s which are available from both the company and your allergist. Trainer devices, available from your allergy provider or in twin-pack devices of EpiPen and Twinject, closely mimic the actual devices and are a wonderful tool to practice with.

Finally, written “Food Allergy Action Plans” are highly recommended for school aged children, including those in child care, to clearly detail how a particular reaction should be treated. Such plans should be kept on file with the child’s particular institution as they will help ensure that your child receives proper treatment in the event of a reaction. Please remember, there is never a wrong time to use one’s epinephrine device to treat an allergic reaction, but there are, however, times when it is wrong to avoid using it.

7)  Be wary of cross-contamination.

Allergen-free food can be very easily contaminated accidentally. Utensils, pots, and pans that were used to prepared allergenic foods need to be thoroughly cleaned. In addition, preparation surfaces, such as tables and chairs, must be cleaned thoroughly with hot, soapy water after use.  Foods can spill, splatter, or rub against one another as an additional means of accidental contamination.

Recommendation: Call restaurants in advance to determine if one’s food allergy needs can be met.  Request that appropriate cleaning procedures be taken, and, if possible, attempt to arrange for the meal to be prepared with cooking items and surfaces that have not come into contact with the particular allergen.  If these requests cannot be met, it would be advisable not to risk potential exposure and to eat at an establishment that can provide such requests.  Bring clearly written instruction cards detailing one’s food allergies and the special preparation instructions required to help avoid potential inadvertent or unintentional contamination. A sample card is available at The Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Network (Click here to begin PDF download).

8)  Learn to recognize and take appropriate precautions in situations that are likely to increase one’s risk for potential exposure.

Because it can be difficult to ascertain whether food being served in certain situations contains any allergens, a food allergic individual must take extra care at events such as birthday parties, company events, or even while attending a ballgame at a stadium. Bakeries, ethnic restaurants, and snack bars may be sources of potential exposure and cross-contamination.  Attending such locations can be dangerous because exposure is possible though direct ingestion, skin contact of a contaminated surface, and even through inhalation of allergen particles.

Recommendation: Whatever the situation, it is important to have a plan in place to avoid a potential reaction. Prior to eating anything, make an attempt to verify the ingredients and the potential for cross contamination in the food preparation.  If this cannot be done, avoid eating the food altogether, or avoid eating at the particular location if special requests cannot be met. Additionally, it is advisable to wash your hands several times a day to limit the potential for contact exposure. Be extra cautious when ordering food in situations where there is a language barrier between oneself and the person taking the order, or ordering from a menu not written in one’s primary language. Use of written cards again is highly advisable.

9) Never share food and encourage others to wash their hands after food contact.

Sharing of food is a very easy way to increase the likelihood of an accidental reaction, especially in younger food allergic individuals who may not be capable of distinguishing safe from non-safe foods.  Additionally, the person sharing the food may not have gone to the necessary lengths to ensure the food has not been contaminated.

Recommendation: Make sure everyone washes their hands after food contact as this is important to cut down on potential routes of cross-contamination.  This critical measure is also particularly recommended to be implemented in classrooms of food allergic children, especially those in schools where there is presence of the particular allergen in the classroom/eating area or where children with food allergies are not afforded a designated “safe” eating area.

10)  Feel empowered and be proactive—be your own advocate!

Having a food allergy may require a little more diligence in terms of awareness and recognition of certain situations, but it is entirely manageable and reactions are preventable.  At present, awareness of food allergy in the general community is increasing, but there is still much work to do.

Recommendation: Join a food allergy advocacy organization such as the The Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Network, The Food Allergy Initiative, Kids With Food Allergies or other similar groups.  Contact your allergy provider for other recommendations.  Help bring food allergy awareness to the community by talking to local officials about how they can help advocate for healthy, safe eating.  Teach others how to maintain a safe environment for you or your child.  Our goal is for you to feel safe and be safe, both inside and outside the home.


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