Food Allergy Awareness Week is yearly in May. Since we talk about food here on Kitchen Dreaming, we felt it was important to also talk about food allergies.
My husband recently became allergic to all sweet and hot peppers from paprika and bell peppers all the way up to hot Serrano peppers. After extensive allergy testing, we found that he is indeed allergic to them all. His reaction came on suddenly and severely and without warning. In fact, I rushed him to the clinic for an epinephrine shot. They took him to the exam room before we even finished checking in. We are a bit shaken by this new revelation which is quite an obstacle when you start reading food labels. Quick shopping trips now take well over an hour as we read and re-read every label. It’s a good thing I like to cook from scratch because we’ve found the only way to achieve complete avoidance is to cook it ourselves.
My husband was an avid lover of hot sauce and peppers and has been for years when suddenly, his body has become intolerant of it. You never know when or how severe a food allergy will strike. You also cannot predict future reaction severity by past reactions. They only way to control food allergy reaction is by strict avoidance of known allergens. Our challenge right now is getting big flavors into his food without the use of many of our most beloved ingredients and spices. We are working on it but it has been a real blow to his ego not to mention his palette.
This is what we now know…One in every 13 kids or about 2 kids in every School classroom has an allergy to food. Of children under 5 about 5% have food allergies while about 4% of people over the age of 5 have food allergies. Together they make up the nearly 15 million Americans with allergic reactions to food proteins.
A food allergy is an abnormal response by the immune system to a food protein. When the food is eaten, the immune system thinks the food is harmful and releases histamine and other chemicals to “attack” the enemy. There is no cure for food allergy. Complete and strict avoidance is the only way to prevent a reaction. Eight foods cause 90% of all allergic reactions in the United States and include milk, wheat, eggs, soy, peanuts, tree nuts (walnuts, hazelnuts, pecans etc), fish and shellfish.
Shortly after eating, one or more symptoms may occur. These include, but are not limited to, the following:
swelling, hives, eczema or itchy rash, trouble swallowing, shortness of breath, repetitive coughing, voice change,
nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and abdominal cramping. Anaphylaxis is the most serious allergic reaction; it is rapid in onset and may even cause death. Each year in the U.S. anaphylaxis to food causes over 50,000 emergency room visits, and 150 deaths! My husband had anaphylaxis accompanied by numbness and tingling in his face and lips, as well as, his arms. His hive began on his belly in large palm sized patches and spread over his entire body. He was head to toe hives at full outbreak.
The easiest and most basic principle to follow for a food allergy is to totally avoid food allergens. Make wise food choices through vigilant label reading and asking questions. Read every label every time as product specifications and formulations can change at any time without warning. Call or contact the product vendor through their help line if necessary. When in doubt, leave (or throw) it out. Also, be careful in food preparation and cleaning and be mindful of cross contamination. Prompt administration of epinephrine is key to surviving anaphylaxis. Fatalities result from a delay or failure to administer epinephrine shots during an allergic reaction.
Be prepared in the case of a food reaction. Accidents are never planned so medications must be immediately
available at all times. Know how to recognize symptoms and administer medications quickly and have a written Food Allergy Action Plan (FAAP). If a reaction occurs, administer your FAAP immediately!
Food allergies affect about 2 million school aged children. Most reactions in schools occur from food in the classroom used for projects or celebrations. Up to 25% of peanut/tree nut reactions in schools are first-time reactions. Once a reaction begins, there is no way to know how severe it will become so take all food allergy-induced allergic reactions seriously. That’s why every school should have a plan for managing food allergies. Does your school have a plan?
Schools has a responsibility to create an environment where children, including those with food allergies, will
be safe. They should employ prevention and avoidance strategies and be prepared to handle an allergic
reaction. Meanwhile, as parents we should provide written medical documentation to the school and the child’s teacher(s). We should work with the school to develop a plan of action and provide properly labeled medications,
as well as, keep emergency contact information up-to-date. Lastly, teach our kids age-appropriate self management skills and strategies to minimize risks by accidental exposure.
But how can we minimize risk? We can do this simply by cleaning our hands before and after eating or
handling food. Advance planning in order to provide safe parties or celebrations. Avoid using foods in classroom art/craft projects or as incentives and lastly, prohibit food trading and sharing.
A food allergy can be challenging and a source of ongoing concern. Having a good source of information and the opportunity to discuss the condition with others who share your concerns can be very helpful. There are a number of Internet sites and forums for discussing food allergies. Some are specifically for parents of children with food allergies. The Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis website can direct you to support groups and events in your area. Many people find it helpful to talk to others who are dealing with the same challenges.