Protect yourself from food allergies

Health Canada recently released a statement on the importance of food allergy awareness. Someone with a food allergy can have a severe reaction without warning, and in some cases it can be life threatening.

All too often we can end up in situations where someone with a food allergy ingests something they are allergic to without knowing it. Restaurants often use ingredients in dishes such as shrimp and nuts that can trigger allergic reactions – but they may not be listed in the description because they are such a small part of the recipe.

Around 1.8 million Canadians deal with food allergies every day, and experts worry that number could be rising. The most common food allergens include tree nuts, sesame seeds, peanuts, soy, seafood, wheat, milk, eggs, mustard and sulphites.

For someone with a severe allergy, ingesting even a small amount of certain foods or additives can be deadly – difficulty breathing and a drop in blood pressure resulting in a loss of consciousness or asphyxiation are not uncommon.

Because there is no cure for food allergies, all that can be done to prevent these dangerous reactions is avoidance.

Health Canada offers these tips for prevention:

 Read the label. Be diligent about reading labels because food producers sometimes change ingredients in common items.

Avoid known allergens. Be careful to always avoid food products that contain allergens or derivatives of food allergens to which you are allergic. Remember that food allergens are sometimes found under different names.

Beware of the precautionary statement. If the label says “May contain nuts” or other known allergens your system will react to, leave the item on the shelf.

Be clear about your allergies to anyone preparing you food. Your friend may have you over for dinner and be unaware of your food allergy, so let them know before they shop for the meal. Same goes for restaurants – they can’t leave that allergy creating food out of your dish if you don’t tell your server what you are allergic to when ordering.

Wear your MedicAlert bracelet. If an accident happens, it could be the only way to let those caring for you know about your allergies. Similarly, if you are prescribed epinephrine/adrenaline, be sure to carry the medicine with you at all times and learn how to inject it properly.

Finally, beware of the myths that surround food allergies. For instance, many sufferers believe in the idea that one bite won’t hurt them – but this belief is false. Having just a trace amount of something you are allergic to in your system has the potential to be trigger a dangerous reaction, and cooking food does not make it less allergenic. The protein in the food causes the reaction, and that protein stays intact when heated.

Sources: Health Canada, FAAN, MedicineNet, 

Photo © Robyn Mackenzie

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