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How to deal with food allergies: 5 helpful tips

Every year, millions of people develop an allergic reaction to food. In some cases, the symptoms may be minor, and sometimes the reaction of the body can be quite serious. Below we will tell you how to overcome the difficulties associated with an allergic reaction to certain foods.

Food allergies occur when the body is hypersensitive to food. Symptoms can range from sneezing and blocked nasal passages (stuffy nose) to anaphylactic shock, a life-threatening condition in which breathing becomes difficult and the body goes into a state of shock. About 150 deaths due to anaphylactic shock, approximately 30,000 emergency room visits, and 2,000 hospitalizations are recorded annually in the United States.

Currently, there is no cure for food allergies, the only way to avoid this trouble is to avoid eating foods that cause an inadequate immune system response.

Below are five recommendations for those with food allergies:

I. Read food labels

Studying food labels is the easiest way to avoid allergic foods, but research has shown that labels that are confusing, vaguely worded can put consumers who suffer from food allergies at increased risk. According to the study, such buyers often misunderstand labels that include the phrase "manufactured on shared equipment" or "may contain." People with allergies should avoid products with these labels, yet about 11% of consumers buy products that say "may contain" on the label, and 40% ignore the phrase "made on a line that also manufactures."

Under the US Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act of 2004, manufacturers are required to label products with ingredients that may cause an allergic reaction. Although there are at least 160 such foods in existence today, the law requires only the eight most common allergens that account for 90% of allergic reactions, including: milk, eggs, fish, seafood, tree nuts, peanuts, wheat and soy.

The law requires any of the above products or ingredients derived from them to be considered a "major food allergen". Allergens can be listed on product labels in several ways:

1. Ingredient name.

For example, "milk" can appear in the composition of any ingredient (buttermilk is a skimmed milk product).

2. Placed after the name of the ingredient.

The allergen on the label may appear after the name of the ingredient, such as "whey (milk)", "lecithin (soy)", "flour (wheat)", etc.

3. After the list of ingredients.

The "contains" warning may appear after the list of ingredients, such as "contains milk, soy and wheat."

The provisions of the law only apply to products that “may contain” the allergen, but not to the potential presence of allergens due to cross-contact during the production process. Manufacturers are not required by law to include warnings such as "may be produced on a line that also uses nuts" or "may contain traces of nuts" on labels. Therefore, always be careful when choosing products, especially when it comes to products without labels, such as cakes or pastries.

II. Avoid cross-contact and cross-reaction

Individuals with food allergies should be aware of the potential for cross-contact between allergens and non-allergic foods and cross-reactions between foods of the same type.

1. Cross Contact

Cross-contamination occurs when an allergen is inadvertently transferred to a "safe" product. For example, if you remove cheese from a cheeseburger, traces of it will still remain on other ingredients (direct cross-contact). Indirect cross-contamination occurs when the same spatula is used to flip both hamburgers and cheeseburgers.

Cross-contamination can be avoided by following a number of guidelines:

Clean out the kitchen. Remove all unsuitable food from the refrigerator, freezer and pantry.

Wash all utensils thoroughly with soap and water, including cutlery, stove top and oven.

Give yourself a separate space in the kitchen if it is used by other family members who do not have allergies.

If you're cooking a variety of meals, start with food that doesn't cause an allergic reaction.

Cover "safe" foods to keep them free of allergen particles from other foods.

Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water if you have been exposed to a food allergen. Soapy water or wet wipes will remove allergens, but plain water and antiseptic gel will not work for this purpose.

Wash countertops and kitchen surfaces thoroughly after cooking.

Never share food to avoid cross-contact.

When going to a cafe or restaurant, be sure to check with the attendants how food is prepared and how likely it is to cross-contaminate.

2. Cross Reaction

Cross-reaction can occur if the protein of one product is similar to the protein of another. As a result, the immune system can mistake one protein for another and provoke an allergic reaction. For example, some people who are allergic to seafood and fish may have an entire food group contraindicated, while others may only have a reaction to swordfish.

For various major allergens, the frequency of cross-reaction varies, for example, the rate in the case of cow and goat milk reaches 90%, while in the case of peanuts and other legumes, the frequency is only 5%. Before using another product from the same group to which you are allergic, a skin test or oral test should be performed to make sure it is safe.

III. Learn to recognize allergy symptoms

People with food allergies need to learn to recognize the manifestations of an allergic reaction, in particular anaphylactic shock. Recognizing symptoms early can save your life.

An allergic reaction can manifest itself as follows:

  • Skin: redness, rash, itching, hives, red pimples, swelling under the skin.

  • Eyes: itching, tearing, redness, swelling around the eyes.

  • Upper respiratory tract: runny nose, sneezing, stuffy nose, hoarseness, dry cough, itching.

  • Lower respiratory tract: heaviness in the chest, wheezing, shortness of breath, cough.

  • Mouth: swelling of the tongue, palate or lips, itching.

  • Gastrointestinal tract: nausea, heartburn, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain, bloody stools.

  • Cardiovascular system: tachycardia or bradycardia, dizziness, loss of consciousness, low blood pressure.

  • Other: contraction of the uterus, a sense of "imminent threat."

Symptoms of anaphylactic shock are difficult to recognize. If you experience one or more of the following symptoms within minutes or hours of eating a meal, it is most likely anaphylaxis.

1. Any manifestations related to the skin, lining of the nose, mouth or gastrointestinal tract, lowering blood pressure, difficulty breathing, confusion, loss of consciousness.

2. Two or more of the following symptoms: hives, itching, swelling of the tongue or lips, difficulty breathing, low blood pressure, abdominal cramps, vomiting.

3. Decreased blood pressure leading to weakness or fainting.

Anaphylactic shock may occur as a single reaction after ingestion of an allergen, which resolves with or without the use of drugs; two reactions occurring after 8 and 72 hours; a prolonged reaction that can last for hours or even days.

In the event of anaphylactic shock, epinephrine should be administered as soon as possible.

IV. Prepare an action plan in case of anaphylaxis

People with food allergies can benefit from having a contingency plan that tells family, friends, acquaintances, and co-workers how to deal with a severe allergic reaction. A similar action plan is available on the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology website. The document must be completed and signed by the doctor. It contains information about the name and age of the patient, data on products that cause allergies, medications taken, as well as a list of symptoms of anaphylactic shock and a sequence of actions in case of its occurrence.

V. Learn how to use a pen

In anaphylactic shock, epinephrine (adrenaline) must be administered within a few minutes of the onset of the reaction. It will relieve swelling of the throat, help restore breathing and increase blood pressure. It is critical to be able to use the epinephrine auto-injector to deliver the drug promptly. Delay can be fraught with deterioration or even death within 30-60 minutes after the onset of the reaction.

People who are prone to food allergies should always have a syringe pen with them in an easily accessible place. Each time the autoinjector is changed, the patient, his friends and relatives should carefully study the instructions, as they may change or differ from manufacturer to manufacturer. In addition, it would be useful to watch videos or pictures that describe the principle of operation of a syringe pen.

Use the auto-injector immediately if you experience any of the following symptoms:

  • labored breathing;

  • difficulty swallowing;

  • throat problems;

  • persistent cough;

  • weak pulse;

  • hives, rash, or swelling of the skin;

  • vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain.

After epinephrine is administered, call an ambulance, notify the dispatcher and inform him that more epinephrine may be needed. Wear a medical bracelet or have a special card with you that lists the type of allergy, your name, and an emergency contact number.