Know the signs and tips for avoidance.
We are hearing more and more these days of people, especially young children, being diagnosed with food allergies and some are so bad the child cannot even be in the room with someone else eating the allergen they have problems with. Many folks don’t understand that there are many ways to create a cross contact when cooking or preparing foods with and without allergens. For instance, you should never bake chocolate chip cookies on the same baking sheet you baked peanut butter cookies on without washing, rinsing and sanitizing the baking sheet or maybe even using another sheet altogether. Think before you bake or give someone you love with a food allergy any type of home-prepared product.
Food allergies are a serious medical condition affecting up to 15 million people in the United States, including one in 13 children. Whether you’re newly diagnosed or brushing up on the facts because you have a friend or loved one recently diagnosed, learning all you can about the disease is the key to staying safe and living well with food allergies. At the present time, there is no cure for a food allergy. Avoidance is the only way to prevent an allergic reaction.
What is a food allergy?
A food allergy is an abnormal reaction to food, even a very small amount. The body’s disease-fighting (immune) system mistakenly thinks the food is harmful and produces antibodies for protection. This triggers the release of a body chemical such as histamine. Within minutes (or up to two hours) the person may begin to feel sick due to unpleasant reactions on the skin, in the digestive tract, the respiratory system or the cardiovascular system. Food protein causing the allergic reaction is not broken down during digestion or by cooking.
What are the major food allergens?
Although nearly any food is capable of causing an allergic reaction, there are eight foods that cause the majority of reactions. These foods are peanuts, tree nuts, milk, egg, wheat, soy, fish and shellfish.
Anyone can develop new allergies at any time. Almost all food allergy reactions in adults are caused by these four foods peanuts; tree nuts; fish and shellfish, especially shrimp.
Body’s reaction to a food allergy
If a person is allergic to a certain food, typical symptoms may include nausea, hives, skin rash, nasal congestion and wheezing. The body also may respond in several of the following ways:
Skin: Swelling of the lips, tongue and face; red or itchy skin; itchy, teary eyes; hives or rash (eczema).
Respiratory tract: Itching and/or tightness in the throat; dry or raspy cough; runny or stuffy nose, sneezing and wheezing (asthma); shortness of breath and difficulty breathing.
Digestive tract: Abdominal pain or cramps; gas; nausea; vomiting and diarrhea.
Cardiovascular system: Rapid or irregular heart beat and a drop in blood pressure.
Some of these symptoms also may occur after drinking alcoholic beverages such as wine or beer. The culprit is not the alcohol. It is the other ingredients (e.g., yeast, sulfur dioxide and additives).
Life-threatening reactions: Most allergic reactions to food are just uncomfortable. However, a small percentage of people have severe reactions that can be life-threatening. For example, anaphylaxis (an-a-fi-LAK-sis), a severe reaction, occurs quickly and may cause death. Food is the leading cause of anaphylaxis in children. For a severe reaction, self-injectable epinephrine (EpiPen or Twinject) will ease the reaction while the person is taken to the hospital or doctor.
Symptoms of anaphylaxis begin within several minutes to two hours after exposure to the allergen. The reaction may get worse and become life-threatening over the next several hours. It may begin with a tingling sensation in the hands, feet, lips or scalp, itching, and a metallic taste in the mouth.
Other possible symptoms may include: Hives; a sensation of warmth; hoarseness; difficulty talking; throat tightness, or the feeling of a lump in the throat; drooling; wheezing, chest tightness or other difficulty breathing; coughing; swelling of the lips, palate, tongue or throat; gastrointestinal symptoms (i.e., vomiting, diarrhea and cramping); a drop in blood pressure; changes in level of awareness and loss of consciousness.
Call 9-1-1 if any of these reactions occur after you eat something, since an anaphylactic reaction moves quickly. In about 20 percent of anaphylactic reactions, symptoms go away and return more severely in two to three hours, primarily in the respiratory tract. Although very rare, anaphylaxis can be triggered by eating certain foods and exercising within hours after eating.
Anyone with a previous history of anaphylactic reactions can have another severe reaction, but teens with food allergy and asthma appear to be at the highest risk. Teens dine away from home more, don’t carry their medications as often and may ignore or not recognize the symptoms.
For more information
Reliable information about food allergies can be found on the internet at these sites:
Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, www.aafa.org/, Click on "Food Allergies"
American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology, www.aaaai.org/patients/re sources/fact_sheets/food_al lergies.pdf
American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology, www.acaai.org/public/advice/foods.htm
The Food Allergy & Anaphy- laxis Network, www.foodallergy.org
Kids with Food Allergies, www.kidswithfoodallergies.org (This is a nation- wide nonprofit food al- lergy support group that provides in formation, recipes, cooking help and peer support.)