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Food Allergies Eating at You

By on April 10, 2011

Food allergies can cause severe symptoms or even a life-threatening reaction. Being informed and prepared to deal with any allergy is key to controlling it and not letting it control you. When you have a food allergy, your immune system mistakenly identifies a specific food or a substance in food as something harmful. Your immune system triggers cells to release antibodies to neutralize the culprit food or food substance (the allergen). 

Food allergies affect an estimated 6-8% of children under age 5, and about 3-5% of adults. While there’s no cure, some children outgrow their food allergy as they get older. It’s easy to confuse a food allergy with a much more common reaction known as food intolerance. While bothersome, food intolerance is a less serious condition that does not involve the immune system.

Some common allergic responses include dripping nose, itchy eyes, dry throat, rashes and hives, nausea, diarrhea, labored breathing, and even anaphylactic shock.

The majority of food allergies are triggered by certain proteins in shellfish, such as shrimp, lobster and crab, peanuts, tree nuts, such as walnuts and pecans, fish, and eggs. And we’d add milk and other dairy to this list for children.

Preventing an allergic episode depends on knowing which foods and beverages to avoid, even when the ingredients may not be readily available to you. This is especially true in restaurants, social settings, etc.

Steps to Managing Food Allergies:

Know what you’re eating and drinking. Be sure to read food labels carefully and ask the preparer whenever possible.

Don’t Be Embarrassed by an allergy. Tell your family, friends, co-workers about the allergies and the extent. Educate them how to support you so you are not suffering in silence.

Prepare for the “What if?” If you have already had a severe reaction, wear a medical alert bracelet or necklace that lets others know that you have a food allergy in case you have a reaction and you’re unable to communicate.

Talk with your doctor about prescribing emergency epinephrine. You may need to carry an epinephrine auto injector (EpiPen or Twinject) if you’re at risk of a severe allergic reaction.

Be careful at restaurants. Be certain your server or chef is aware that you absolutely can’t eat the food you’re allergic to, and you need to be completely certain that the meal you order doesn’t contain it. Make your needs known as your life could depend on it, literally.

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