Living Life with a Food Allergy

Here's important information you need to know about living with food allergies

Two adults and a child preparing food in their home.

Being diagnosed with a food allergy can be scary. It's something you have to be mindful of on a daily basis. Luckily, living a happy and healthy life with a food allergy is absolutely doable with some planning and education. 

The first step is understanding the symptoms and triggers of food allergies, as well as how to properly manage an allergic reaction. Here's everything you need to know about living with food allergies.

What Is a Food Allergy?

A food allergy is the body's immune system responding to a certain food. The body mistakenly classifies a food as a harmful substance and produces an immune response.

Some common symptoms of a food allergy include:

  • Itchy mouth
  • Swelling of the tongue
  • Hives or skin rash
  • Watery eyes
  • Runny nose
  • Vomiting, diarrhea, or abdominal cramps
  • Tightening of the throat and subsequent trouble breathing

Anaphylaxis is a serious allergic response and if not treated immediately can be life threatening.  Anaphylaxis can occur in people with food allergies so it’s important to work with your doctor to ensure an action plan is in place and autoinjectible epinephrine is available.  

Common Food Allergens

Eight foods most common food allergens are the proteins in : peanuts, tree nuts, milk, eggs, soybeans, wheat, shellfish and fish.  Earlier this year, sesame was named as the 9th food allergen in the US. According to the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (ACAAI), the most common food allergies in children are milk, eggs and peanuts. As children age, they might outgrow allergies to milk and eggs, but peanut and tree allergies tend to persist through adulthood. The most common allergies in adults are peanuts, tree nuts, fish and shellfish.

5 Tips for Managing Food Allergies

If you're diagnosed with a food allergy, you can take several steps to manage your condition and decrease the risk of  a reaction. Here are five strategies to consider:

1. Read food labels. The Food Allergy Labeling and Consumer Protection Act of 2004 (FALCPA) made it necessary for food manufacturers to identify common allergens in simple and clear language on a food label. The food allergen may be listed in the ingredient listing or as a separate statement.  Food manufacturers often change ingredients, so it is important to read the label every time you purchase the product.  Precautionary allergen labeling (PAL)  statements, such as "may contain," "might contain," "made on shared equipment" or "made in a facility with X food” are voluntary statements, are not standardized and are not required by law.  PAL statements do not provide a clear understanding of the risk associated with consuming the product so work with your healthcare team to determine if you should avoid foods with PAL statements. 

2. Meet with a Registered Dietitian. Although food labeling laws have made this easier, it can be difficult to identify major allergens and alternative names for major food allergens. To help manage food allergies,  meeting with a registered dietitian can be beneficial. They'll be able to offer tips for identifying potential allergens and help to identify nutritious options to maintain a well-balanced diet. 

3. Make your food allergy known when eating out. Call ahead to make sure the restaurant can accommodate your needs. Always tell your server about a food allergy and ask to speak with or confirm with the chef. You may need to educate the restaurant staff about the need for separate preparation surfaces and cooking supplies.

4. Always carry an epinephrine pen. After a food allergy diagnosis, your doctor may prescribe an epinephrine pen to keep with you at all times. This is the first line of defense against an anaphylactic reaction. Make note of the expiration date on the pen and set a reminder to refill the prescription before it expires.

5. Know when to use an epinephrine pen. If you experience shortness of breath, tightness in your throat, trouble breathing or swallowing, weak pulse or other severe symptoms, use the epinephrine pen right away. Be sure to review your anaphylaxis emergency action plan with your  doctor at least annually.

If you think you have an undiagnosed food allergy, it's important to talk to your doctor. Managing food allergies is absolutely possible — you can live a full and healthy life with an allergy.

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