The seemingly endless days of summer are winding down. Preparations are well underway to get back in to school and work routines. Good night’s sleep, check. Clothes ironed, check. Food allergy plan…hmm.
As many as 15 million Americans have food allergies and according to the CDC 4 to 6 percent of children suffer from food allergies. While food allergies are still rare compared to environmental allergies, they are on the rise. It’s important to learn how to navigate them. You need a plan. To get one, I spoke with Dr. Maeve O’Connor and chef Amanda Freitag. The two are part of a new campaign from Mylan, EpiPen® On Location™ that is raising awareness on how to be prepared if a life threatening allergic reaction happens.
First things first, if you’re going to manage food allergies, you have to understand what they are.
An allergic reaction to food occurs when the body’s immune system detects a certain food, eaten or touched, and overreacts, thinking it’s an infection or other dangerous element. The reaction can cause tingling or swelling in the mouth, numbness of the limbs, abdominal distress and a rash or hives. A serious whole-body reaction, known as anaphylaxis, also interferes with swallowing and breathing, among other essential functions.
“Anaphylaxis is a life-threatening allergic reaction that is unpredictable, rapid in onset and may cause death,” O’Connor said. “Some symptoms may include hives, swelling or redness of the skin, tightness in the throat, nausea, dizziness, trouble breathing, a decrease in blood pressure and/or fainting. While symptoms of an allergic reaction vary from person to person, reactions can quickly progress to become life-threatening.”
While nearly any food can cause an allergy, the most widespread are proteins in cow’s milk, eggs, soy, wheat, peanuts, tree nuts and shellfish. Though you aren’t diagnosed with anaphylaxis, according to O’Conner you are diagnosed with potentially severe allergies and therefore may have an increased risk for anaphylaxis.
How do you deal with this situation? It’s more than dietary. Lifestyle changes are in order and planning is essential.
“Every individual at risk for anaphylaxis should have an anaphylaxis action plan,” O’Connor said. “While I work with each of my patients to create a plan that’s right for their specific needs, there are certain elements that should be a part of every anaphylaxis action plan, including avoiding allergic triggers, recognizing the signs and symptoms of anaphylaxis, having immediate access to two epinephrine auto-injectors, such as two EpiPen® (epinephrine injection) Auto-Injectors, and seeking emergency medical care should anaphylaxis occur.”
Obviously for those with severe allergies, the best way to prevent anaphylaxis is to avoid their allergic triggers, however, accidental exposure can still happen especially in environments you can’t completely control. Life happens. Freitag, who manages a severe allergy to hazelnuts, avoids them as best she can but she’s also always prepared. Her tips are: to avoid known allergens, recognize the signs and symptoms, have access to EpiPen Auto Injectors at all times and seek immediate emergency medical care if anaphylaxis occurs.
“When I eat out, I always talk to the chefs about my food allergy and I make sure I have EpiPen® Auto-Injectors everywhere I go, like my home, my restaurant and on set. Having a food allergy does not take away from my love of food in any way,” Freitag said.
If you, like Freitag are the one with the food allergy, you most likely have your own action plan, but if you’re the parent of a child with a food allergy, it’s scarier. Some things you should do to help your child manage their allergy: make sure they know what they are allergic to and once old enough teach them how to recognize that ingredient on a food label, set a firm rule that younger children only eat what’s been approved by a parent or teacher and make sure the school knows about the allergy, pack safe snack alternatives for your child and teach them to plan ahead by always having a safe snack and two EpiPens with them.
What are you’re your tips for make things easier when dealing with food allergies?