Protect yourself from a food allergy reaction

Hving a food allergy can be a scary situation but knowing what foods to avoid and how to recognize symptoms can help you manage your condition positively.

With all of the interest in food allergies today, you might think that this is a recent problem. In reality, food allergies have been around as long as we’ve been consuming food. Thousands of people have reactions to food allergies every day and while there is no cure, there are ways to help control the possibility of a reaction.

Food allergies are reactions in the immune system that occur after you eat an offending food. These foods contain a protein that triggers the allergy such as the proteins in milk, eggs or wheat. For people with a food allergy even a tiny amount consumed or breathed in can cause symptoms such as rashes, hives, digestive problems, swelling of the lips, tongue, or throat or swollen airway passages. If you have an intolerance to the food you may experience a mild reaction. Those with food allergies will experience more severe reactions including anaphylaxis, a condition where the air passages swell, shutting off the airways and possibly becoming life-threatening.

Thanks to the Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act of 2004 the ability to find allergens in foods is easier than ever. Prior to 2006, it was virtually impossible to determine whether or not a known food allergen was an ingredient. For example, a starch listed in the ingredient panel would be listed as a “food starch” and the consumer would have no idea if that starch came from a potato or from wheat. Now with the food allergen labeling law, eight foods causing the majority of food allergy reactions are required by law to be listed on the food label. These eight foods are: milk, eggs, fish, shellfish, tree nuts, peanuts, wheat and soy.

Food allergies can be life threatening, so learning to manage your food allergy is also important. Managing a food allergy includes the following steps:

  • Learn how to read food labels and ingredient lists.
  • Know the major food allergens and which foods or ingredients you are allergic to and need to avoid.
  • Know the symptoms of an allergic reaction.
  • Learn what measures to take if an allergic reaction occurs.
  • Become an advocate for yourself when it comes to choosing foods that are allergy free.

By following the above steps, you can lessen your chance of accidently exposing yourself to a food allergen and avoid adverse reactions or life-threatening conditions. When reactions do occur, consult your primary care physician for a treatment plan or in the event of life-threatening conditions call 911.

For more information, visit the Mayo Clinic website, WebMD or the Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network website.

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