During the holidays, the variety and complexity of foods served by friends and relatives can present landmines for people with food allergies.
And there are more of them than you might think. The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that food allergies affect up to 6 percent of children and 4 percent of adults.
“Many allergic reactions to food occur within minutes,” said Howard Mell, M.D., assistant professor of emergency medicine at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center. “Among the most common allergens are peanuts, tree nuts, shrimp, soy, egg, wheat, milk and fish. But while the primary ingredients in any one dish may be fine, additives, spices and colorings also can cause allergic reactions.”
In addition to his professional experience, Mell has first-hand knowledge of how dangerous food allergies can be, as his young daughter has a serious peanut allergy.
Mell offers these tips to help deal with food allergies:
- If you’re attending a holiday party with a child or family member who has food allergies, bring at least one dish that can safely be eaten by the allergic person in case there aren't any other options.
- Be alert to cross contamination. For example, peanut protein can linger on a bowl or work surface for up to five hours and still cause a severe reaction for someone who is allergic to peanuts.
- People with known food allergies should always have with them an epinephrine auto-injector that is up-to-date, and be sure that friends and family members also know how to use it.
- If hosting a social event, keep all prepared food packaging so guests can check the ingredients for any potential allergens.
The symptoms of allergic reactions to food vary greatly, from stomach pain to obstructive swelling of the lips, tongue or throat.
“Severe symptoms, alone or in combination with milder symptoms, may be signs of anaphylaxis and require immediate treatment,” Mell said.
“If you think you or a friend or family member is having an allergic reaction and you don’t have an epinephrine auto-injector with you, call 911 immediately or go to the emergency department. Even if you have an epinephrine auto-injector and use it, you should still go to the ER and be treated to prevent a second reaction.”
Marguerite Beck: firstname.lastname@example.org, 336-716-2415