According to Food Allergy Research & Education (FARE), up to 15 million Americans have food allergies, and the numbers are rising. Here’s some information about allergies to give you a solid basis of knowledge.
- An allergy is an immune response to a substance that the body is oversensitive to. Chemicals, such as histamines are released, which cause allergy symptoms.
- The main foods that cause allergies are as follows: milk, eggs, fish, shellfish, tree nuts, peanuts, wheat, and soybeans.
- Eating a food you are allergic to can cause nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, cramping, diarrhea, or a severe, life-threatening reaction (called anaphylaxis).
- Medications used to treat allergies are antihistamines pills and topical steroids, which are available over the counter and by prescription. Injections are also available to treat allergies.
- Severe allergic reactions, anaphylaxis, need to be treated with a medicine called epinephrine, which can be life-saving if given right away. After you use epinephrine, you must call 9-1-1 and go straight to the hospital.
- Knowing what foods cause your food allergies and avoiding those foods is the best way to prevent allergic reactions. However, food allergens can be hidden in sauces, ice creams, and baked items.
- Careful reading of food labels can ensure there won’t be any surprises attributed to hidden allergens. Be aware of other words for food allergens, like “caseinate” for milk or “albumin” for eggs. “Nondairy” on a label does not necessarily mean there is no milk in the product.
Here are some tips for living well with food allergies:
- Educate yourself about food allergies by visiting websites, reading articles and books, and talking with your health providers.
- Join a support group in your community or start one.
- Inform friends and family about your food allergies and educate them on safe ways to cook.
- Always wear medical alert jewelry that lists your food allergies. Medical alert jewelry can be ordered through many drugstores or through Internet websites like American Medical ID.
- Keep a supply of safe snacks on hand, at home and when traveling.
- When eating out or when traveling, bring safe substitutes from home. For example, if you are allergic to milk, bring soy milk or rice milk to have with cereal.
- Be aware of the risk of cross-contamination. An ice cream scoop may have been used for Rocky Road ice cream, which contains tree nuts and then used to scoop your vanilla ice cream.
- At restaurants, alert the wait staff to the possibility you could have a severe food reaction. Carefully question them about the ingredients.
- Learn to bake at home and how to make substitutions for the foods you are allergic to.
- When you attend social occasions, bring your own dish of a safe food.
- Enjoy the foods that you can eat!
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