Don’t Let Food Allergies Spoil Your Summer Fun!
Summer brings people together to enjoy picnics and BBQ’s in the warm outdoor weather. It is now a common occurrence to attend a gathering where at least one person has a known food allergy. Currently in the U.S., it is estimated that 1 in 13 children has a food allergy. If you are hosting an event, it is a good idea to ask if anyone attending has a food allergy, so you can choose your menu accordingly and ensure there is something available for everyone to eat safely. Often times, adults with food allergies or those who have children with food allergies may prefer to bring their own meal so they can ensure it has been safely prepared. It is also worth noting that there is a significant difference between a food allergy and a food intolerance. While both may require that you change your menu, a food allergy can result in a life threatening reaction.
So, what is the difference between food allergies and a food intolerance? Well, a food allergy occurs when your immune system responds to a food allergen. The body makes its own proteins, called IgE antibodies, to fight against the food allergen. When a person eats or drinks that food again, their body sends out the IgE antibodies to attack the allergen. This process releases chemicals that cause an allergic reaction. Symptoms of an allergic reaction to a food can include itchiness, hives, swelling, vomiting, diarrhea, trouble breathing, and a sudden drop in blood pressure. These symptoms tend to occur within 30 minutes of eating the food, but delayed reactions can happen. Not everyone will experience all of these symptoms with every reaction. Those with asthma are at higher risk of having a severe reaction to a food they are allergic to. Some people that are highly sensitive to a food, may exhibit symptoms even after breathing it in (such as peanut powder) or having it touch their skin (such as when handling shellfish), but this is rare. Those who have a severe food allergy should carry an epinephrine auto-injector device at all times (such as Epipen, Auvi-Q, or a generic alternative).
A food intolerance, or a food sensitivity occurs when a person has difficulty digesting a particular food. This can lead to symptoms such as intestinal gas, bloating, abdominal pain or diarrhea. For example, lactose intolerance occurs when a person lacks sufficient lactase enzyme to break down the lactose (milk sugar) in the dairy products. This results in uncomfortable abdominal symptoms. Limiting lactose-containing foods, or taking Lactaid tablets, with the first bite of dairy can help to alleviate these symptoms. Food intolerances are very real and can make individuals feel miserable, but these reactions are not life-threatening.
If you are unsure if you have a food allergy, meet with one of our healthcare providers and we can help you determine through skin prick and/or IgE blood tests, and a careful review of your medical history, whether you have a food allergy. As you plan your next gathering with friends and family, take some time to ask your guests if they have a food allergy so that they can all enjoy the party together. And if you or a loved one suspect you have a food allergy make sure to get a proper diagnosis and treatment plan so you know precisely what to foods should be avoided and what you should do in case of accidental ingestion.