Living With Food Allergies
To some, a crab leg feast would be a delicious dinner. To others, it can be torture that would be against the Geneva Convention.
Although food allergies seem quite prevalent these days, only about five percent of children and four percent of teens and adults actually have a clinically proven allergy. A food allergy occurs when a person’s immune system has an abnormal response to certain foods. When this happens, he or she will experience one or more symptoms such as itching in the mouth, difficulty breathing or swallowing, hives, and gastrointestinal issues such as abdominal pain, vomiting, and diarrhea.
While many people may experience some of these symptoms after eating, it might also be the result of an intolerance to certain foods. Those who are lactose intolerant, for example, may have severe GI problems after eating lots of cheese. Unlike a full-blown food allergy, however, these symptoms appear when your body cannot properly digest certain foods. As a result, you may not need to take as much precaution as those with a diagnosed food allergy.
For those who do have a diagnosed food allergy managing the condition is easier said than done—especially since the most common allergens such as peanuts, milk, and eggs, can be found just about everywhere.
To increase your safety, here’s what you should know when eating at home or dining out:
While this is one of the easier places to manage a food allergy, there are some important things to consider if you live with family members or roommates. First, you should determine if the type of food you’re allergic to is something everyone can live without. Since milk or eggs are more difficult to give up than peanut-products, you might need to take extra precaution if it’s going to be in the kitchen. Foods that contain an allergen should be kept in containers and labeled as ‘unsafe,’ and counters, tables, cutting boards, spoons, etc. should all be thoroughly scrubbed clean with soap and water after using. Family members should also wash their hands before and after eating to avoid cross-contamination.
You should also be wary of airborne allergens when cooking foods such as shellfish. Maintain a safe distance from the cooking area and allow the air to clear for 30 minutes afterwards before entering the room.
Also, make sure everyone knows how to check nutrition labels on foods to identify ingredients that may be unsafe for you. And keep a kit that includes your medication and epinephrine easily accessible in case of an emergency.
Do your research before you go and choose a restaurant that offers safe menu items. Try to avoid buffets, bakeries, and restaurants that serve pre-made foods, as these have a higher risk of cross-contamination. You might also want to call ahead and ask the manager about ingredients for different dishes and how they prepare their food. Be sure to mention your allergy to your waiter and chef as well. Avoid ordering a complicated meal, which can increase the chance that you’ll be exposed to an allergen Don’t order anything fried or grilled – you can’t always trust that the grill or frying oil will be cleaned before your food is cooked. Also, watch out for desserts, which might contain hidden allergens.
And of course, be sure to pack an emergency kit just in case you have an unexpected allergic reaction.
Crozer-Keystone offers a range of board-certified physicians who are trained in the latest technologies and procedures to comprehensively diagnose, manage and treat gastrointestinal and liver conditions. For more information or to make an appointment, visit http://gi.crozerkeystone.org or call 1-877-CKHS-GI1 (254-7441). Crozer-Keystone offers direct-access colonoscopy scheduling, which means that a separate consultation visit at a physician’s office may not be required for qualified individuals.