Food Allergy Basics

If you or a loved one does not live with food allergies, you may not be aware of how involved  or serious they truly are.  Before our oldest son was diagnosed, I had no idea how much this would change our life, and I am a registered dietitian!  There is no cure for food allergies, total avoidance of the offending food is the only treatment.

There are a wide variety of reactions possible.  Hives, itching, swelling of the lips, throat, or tongue, dizziness, vomiting, diarrhea, and difficulty breathing are symptoms of a food allergy reaction. This is not an exhaustive list. There is always a chance of anaphylaxis, whether previous reactions have been mild or severe. It is very unpredictable and the treatment for anaphylaxis is epinephrine.  Benadryl will not stop an anaphylactic reaction.

Living with food allergies requires constant vigilance- always reading labels, always asking questions, always carrying epinephrine and always educating others.

There are eight foods which cause the vast majority of allergies.  These are egg, milk, peanuts, tree nuts, soy, wheat, fish and shellfish. In 2006, the Food Allergen Labeling Consumer Protection Act (FALCPA) went into effect.  This law made food labels much clearer to read in regards to these top 8 allergens.  The common name of the allergen is required to be listed on the label now.  This has made it easier to determine what foods are safe.  However this is not fool-proof.  Foods may be processed in a facility that processes an allergen, and this is NOT required to be listed.  More companies are voluntarily listing these warnings but this is not a law.  Another concern is that people are allergic to foods that are not in the top 8 allergens.  What about them?  It becomes more difficult to deal with a food outside of the top 8.

Unfortunately we often cannot rely on food labels due to the above reasons.  This means actually calling the company and asking specific questions to determine if the food is safe.  Imagine having to do this on a regular basis, just to stay safe.  This is a reality for many families dealing with food allergies.  And just because you call a company once and hear that it is safe does not mean it will always be safe.  Companies change their operation from time to time, so there is constant re-checking involved.

We also have to consider cross-contamination.  When cooking and preparing food, it is so important to wash surfaces and utensils that came in contact with the allergen very well before using those again for the safe foods.  This includes hand-washing and possibly brushing teeth.  If I were to eat peanuts, I would wash my hands and brush my teeth before giving my son a hug and a kiss. This may seem over the top, but we would much rather prevent a reaction and spend a few minutes cleaning up than end up in the ER.

Since 1 in 13 kids have a food allergy, this is real life for someone you know.  When we ask how food was prepared, when we ask to see a food package to read the label, when we ask you to wash your hands, I hope you will understand that we are not be being helicopter parents.  We don’t want to have to ask these questions.  We don’t want to constantly be on guard. It’s exhausting. We are trying to prevent a serious reaction.  We want our kids to live normal lives and not feel excluded, so we do it.  We do it because we have to.

We have amazing family and friends.  They have been so willing to learn our allergies and prepare food that everyone can eat.  They ask me questions, text me pictures of food labels, and always include our children.  I hope that all families dealing with food allergies have such an amazing support network.  We love you guys!!!





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