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Food Allergy Awareness Week

May 9, 2012

Facts EVERY Parent Should Know

By: Tami Pyles
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Do you read every label, on every package of food, every week, at the grocery store?  Have you ever feared for your child’s life as you took them to a friend’s birthday party or school celebration?  Do you bake most things from scratch so you can control the ingredients?  Chances are no, unless you have a child or family member with a life-threatening food allergy.

It is estimated that 15 million Americans have food allergies and there has been a dramatic increase in the last few years by those affected by food allergies.  If your family is fortunate enough to have the freedom to eat what you want without regard to ingredients or processing, chances are you are in contact with someone who does cope with food allergies.  As a parent of a child with a severe peanut allergy, I can say with certainty that having support from non-allergic families is key- to one’s stress level and most importantly the safety of your child.

The week of May 13th is Food Allergy Awareness Week sponsored by FAAN (Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network).  In the spirit of spreading the news and keeping those with food allergies safe, here are 4 ways that you can support a friend, classmate, playmate or family member with food allergies.

Wash Your Hands and Mouth
If your kids are anything like mine meals and snacks are messy. Faces, fingers and other body parts end up covered in the food du jour.  Particles left behind on dirty mouths and hands can easily be transferred to toys and other surfaces that everyone touches.  For those with severe food allergies, this “residue” can be enough to trigger a reaction.  The simple act of washing hands and mouths after meals and snacks can prevent harmful food particles from being unintentionally shared. Washing with warm soap and water is key; as hand sanitizer will not adequately remove certain food proteins that can trigger a reaction.

Party Planning with Precaution
As a society, our celebrations tend to be food-focused. Candies, cakes and pot luck dishes abound at holiday and birthday celebrations. This can be a nightmare to navigate with a severe food allergy. If you know you will have a food allergic guest, talk to them (or the parents) ahead of time to discuss ways the celebration can be safe. Coordinate with room parents about school parties and consider changing the focus from food to a craft or book about the celebration. For birthday parties or holiday celebrations, let the food allergic guest know the menu so they can plan ahead to eat before they come or bring safe alternatives. For my daughter, I keep a stash of frozen cupcakes at the ready.  I talk to the host ahead of time and try to decorate her cupcake with the same colors or theme of the cake at the party. Also, think about snacks that are out and within easy reach of younger food allergic guests. Bowls of nuts, chocolate candies, and other popular party snacks can be dangerous.  ry to come up with safe alternatives or put unsafe snacks up high enough so food allergic little ones will not be tempted to grab and go before anyone notices.

Read Labels
Reading labels is absolutely necessary for those with food allergies. It is important to check not only the ingredients, but also notes on how a food is processed. Often times, foods that are OK based on ingredients alone can still be dangerous if the food was processed in a plant that handles the allergen.  We have learned, for example, that some brands of pretzels and crackers are unsafe for our daughter because they are processed in a plant with nuts. 

If you are not sure,  assume the food is unsafe. The only way to prevent a reaction is strict avoidance of the allergen. If no label is available, do not give the food to a food allergic person.  It is better to assume the allergen may be present. Calling manufactures is also a great way to get needed information about possible allergens and processing issues. The few minutes it takes to make the call could save a life. Remember to check non-food items as well.  Through reading labels we have discovered that some potting soils and most bird feed contain peanuts so we have opted to restrict them from our house.

Reading labels is a weekly part of our grocery trips. Even foods that we buy every week we check.  Manufacturers change plants and processes often. A food that was once safe can become unsafe overnight if the allergen is introduced via a new process. You can do your part to help by taking time to read labels too. If you are like me, you will be amazed at what you find and how many foods fall on the unsafe list for those with food allergies. 

Know How to Respond
If you have someone in your care who has a food allergy be sure you know how to respond should a reaction occur.  Understand the signs of a reaction and how to treat it.  Most parents with children who have severe food allergies have an Allergy Action Plan that details what to do and how to respond- from a mild to a severe reaction.  Be familiar with the plan and the specific protocol to follow - each child is different and it may be that two children allergic to the same food will react differently and require a different intervention.

Mild reactions may be treatable with OTC allergy medicines. Know the signs that indicate that it is a mild reaction, often time hives or watery eyes.  Know the correct dose to administer, and once the medicine has been given be sure to monitor the child for an escalation of symptoms.  If the OTC medication is not working move quickly to the protocol for managing a severe reaction.

When a severe reaction occurs, the body is in anaphylactic shock. If not treated properly and swiftly, the result is death.  According to information on the FAAN website, every 3 minutes a food allergy reaction sends someone to the emergency department and every 6 minutes the reaction is one of anaphylaxis.  After the onset of anaphylaxis the person must be treated at a hospital as there is no way to reverse the process without direct medical treatment.  Your job is to act quickly and keep them safe until trained medical personnel can arrive.

People with severe food allergies should have an EpiPen with them at all times. The injection of epinephrine will buy the person time until trained medical staff can arrive and take over treatment.  At the first sign of anaphylactic shock- swelling of the face or lips, difficulty breathing, among others- the EpiPen should be administered and 911 should be called. 

Know how to administer the EpiPen (most pens also come with a trainer pen so practice administering it so in the moment you will know how to respond and not waste valuable seconds reading directions). Most food allergic people carry two EpiPens.  The first injection may not provide enough medicine to control the reaction or too much time may elapse between when the first pen is injected and help arrives. Once the EpiPen has been administered and 911 has been called monitor the person and if an escalation of symptoms occurs use the second EpiPen. 

Food allergies present a real danger, and speaking from personal experience, add a lot of stress and anxiety to daily life.   have so much respect and appreciation for the friends, family members and care givers in our life who have taken the time to educate themselves about what our daughter’s allergy really means and taking all necessary steps to keep her safe. It is a daily battle to keep her safe and I am so thankful we have a strong army of supporters behind us.  I hope that you will take these tips to heart and help those in your life with food allergies to stay safe.

For more information about food allergies and how to manage them visit:


1) Trisha Kern said:
I cannot imagine having a child with a severe allergy like peanut. I've jt recently been diagnosed with gluten allergy and if ihadn't been for random tests, I might never have known. I feel like a contabt burden to friends and family who try accommodate my crazy dietary restrictions. Glad we're increasing allergy awareness!
2 years, 2 months ago

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