What to Know About Food Allergies

During a PTA meeting, they are discussing a bake sale and the PTA president lists about 30 ingredients or types of foods that are not allowed due to potential food allergies. This depiction, from a new movie in theaters, is comical, but there is some truth based in these food rules. Food allergies have become more prevalent in our country. It is now affecting almost everyone in some way. Either someone in your family has a food allergy, or perhaps a classmate is affected by allergies, or maybe you have been on the same airplane as someone with a food allergy.

Food allergies are caused by an overreaction of your immune system to a protein found in a certain food, and it can manifest itself in different ways. The majority of allergic reactions are caused by eight foods: cow’s milk, eggs, fish, peanuts, shellfish, soy, tree nuts, and wheat. Food allergies most of the time present in young children who can sometimes outgrow these allergies, but rarely food allergies can present for the first time in adulthood.

Food allergies can manifest in different ways. You can have a mild allergic reaction one time and the next time you are exposed to the same protein, you can have a severe allergic reaction. Sometimes you can just have vomiting or stomach cramps. This is the most confusing, because sometimes this can be from food intolerance (for example, lactose intolerance – which does not lead to a life-threatening allergy) or it could be a symptom of a true full-blown food allergy. The more obvious and serious signs of an allergy are hives, trouble breathing, wheezing, and feeling like your throat is closing. These are signs of anaphylaxis and are a medical emergency.

People with food allergies should have an allergist, and if are told they need an Epipen, (or Epipen Jr.), should carry it at all times. I cannot stress the importance of this. Time is of the essence if someone starts to have an anaphylactic reaction (due to a food, bee sting, etc.), and the sooner you can inject the Epipen the better outcome for the person. If school nurses have the Epipen, they should be able to rush over at a moments’ notice and be very comfortable and confident in injecting the pen. If the child is old enough, he or she should carry the Epipen in their pocket or backpack.

There is a 5-minute video on Epipen’s website demonstrating and discussing how to use the Epipen. I would highly suggest that everyone view it, as you never know if you may be around someone who needs help getting this medicine. If your child or a loved one has an Epipen, it comes with a trainer to practice. You simply inject it into the side of the thigh – even through the clothes – and hold for 10 seconds. Then you should call 911 or take the person to the closest emergency room for further evaluation. Any and all caregivers, including baby-sitters, should practice and watch the video and be comfortable stepping into this life-saving role if necessary.

With 4-6% of children being affected by food allergies, and more than 50 million Americans affected by this in some way, it is becoming ever more important to be aware of the dangers of food allergies. More precautions are being taken in the school system, and as a parent, you should talk to your child about the importance of being sympathetic and compliant to these rules if a classmate has a food allergy.

Staff Contributor

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