For most people, going out to dinner at a nice restaurant is a chance to relax and enjoy a good meal. But for people with food allergies, it can be a process fraught with tension. Can you get the complete list of ingredients for menu items? Does the restaurant serve dishes that include your particular food allergy triggers, and if so, is there the possibility of cross-contamination in the kitchen during the food prep and cooking process? These aren’t questions to be taken lightly, because food allergies can pose life-threatening risks.
That’s why it’s important to recognize food allergy symptoms and how to treat them to prevent serious health problems. May is Food Allergy Action Month, which means it’s an ideal time to learn how to take action against food allergies—especially if you or a loved one is among the 4 percent of American adults or 4 to 6 percent of children who suffer from this problem.
What Are Food Allergies?
Your body develops an allergic reaction when it encounters a foreign substance and your immune system kicks into gear to ward off the interloper—think about how your skin can swell up after being stung by a bee, for instance. In the case of food allergy, the body thinks a particular food is dangerous and works to ward off an attack. The result can be a mild reaction, like that swelling from a bee sting, or it could be much more severe. Food allergy symptoms have the potential to affect the whole body. They may include stomach cramps, hives, coughing, shortness of breath or trouble swallowing.
An allergic reaction can quickly grow in severity and intensity. Your tongue may swell up, restricting your ability to talk or breathe. You may feel weak or dizzy, and your pulse may grow fainter. If left unchecked, your food allergy reaction may progressively worsen until you reach anaphylaxis, where your body goes into shock and that can lead to fatal respiratory or cardiovascular failure.
Because anaphylaxis can happen quickly, and because a reaction can be triggered within minutes after ingesting the food allergen, immediate action is vital when it comes to food allergy treatment.
What Action Should You Take Against Food Allergies?
First of all, it’s important to know if you have a food allergy. According to the American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology, a food allergy usually appears in childhood but it can develop at any age. Generally, about 90 percent of food allergies are caused by the following foods: eggs, milk, peanuts, tree nuts, fish, shellfish, wheat and soy. If you experience any of the above food allergy symptoms, you should see a physician to get tested for potential allergens.
Another important tool in educating yourself about potential food allergies is to take a food allergy test, and if you do have a genetic predisposition toward certain food allergies, your DNA can give you information that you and your physician can use to make the necessary adjustments to your diet to accommodate your allergy.
If you do have an allergy to a food, there are steps you can take to prevent a serious allergic reaction from occurring. Of course, vigilance is always wise, whether it’s eating out at a restaurant or reading labels on packaged foods at the supermarket. Those labels can indicate not just the presence of an allergen on the ingredient list, but also whether there is the potential for cross-contamination if the food was manufactured on the same equipment that handles common allergens such as wheat or nuts. That information on food preparation should also be requested at any eatery you visit. A vegetable soup that was stirred with a ladle that also was used to dish out fish stew could be a problem for someone with a fish allergy. Some people with food allergies have cards they take with them to restaurants listing their allergies, so the waitstaff and cooks know what to look out for.
Preparation is key when it comes to food allergy treatment; always carry whatever medication your physician has prescribed for you in case of allergic reaction. Even if you’ve experienced only mild allergic reactions in the past to a certain food, the next one can be much more severe. Often, the medication may take the form of an EpiPen. It contains epinephrine, a form of adrenaline medication that is used to treat anaphylaxis. This device can be used to directly inject the medication into your body for fast treatment.
If you see someone have an allergic reaction, call 911 immediately. If the person can talk, ask them what they ate and what their allergy is. If possible, have the person lie down and inject the epinephrine into the large muscle of the thigh.
It’s Food Allergy Action Month, so take steps today to educate yourself and loved ones about food allergies. It can be a decision with life-changing consequences.