Once a meat allergy is diagnosed, the best treatment is to avoid the trigger. Carefully check ingredient labels of food products, and learn whether what you need to avoid is known by other names.
Be extra careful when you eat out. Waiters (and sometimes the kitchen staff) may not always know the ingredients of every dish on the menu. Depending on your sensitivity, even just walking into a kitchen or another place where food is prepared can cause an allergic reaction.
All patients with food allergies must make some changes in what they eat. Your allergist can direct you to helpful resources, including special cookbooks, patient support groups, and registered dietitians, who can help you plan meals.
Managing a severe food reaction with epinephrine
A food allergy, including a meat allergy, can cause symptoms that range from mild to life-threatening; the severity of each reaction is unpredictable. People who have previously experienced only mild symptoms may suddenly experience a life-threatening reaction called anaphylaxis. In the U.S., food allergy is the leading cause of anaphylaxis outside the hospital setting.
Epinephrine is the first-line treatment for anaphylaxis, which results when exposure to an allergen triggers a flood of chemicals that can send your body into shock. Anaphylaxis can occur within seconds or minutes, can worsen quickly, and can be deadly.
Once you’ve been diagnosed with a food allergy, your allergist will likely prescribe an epinephrine auto-injector and teach you how to use it. Check the expiration date of your auto-injector, note the expiration date on your calendar, and ask your pharmacy about reminder services for prescription renewals.
Be sure to have two doses available, as the severe reaction may reoccur. If you’ve had a history of severe reactions, take epinephrine as soon as you suspect you’ve eaten an allergy-causing food or if you feel a reaction coming on. Epinephrine should be used immediately if you experience severe symptoms such as shortness of breath, repetitive coughing, weak pulse, hives, tightness in your throat, trouble breathing or swallowing, or a combination of symptoms from different body areas such as hives, rashes, or swelling on the skin coupled with vomiting, diarrhea, or abdominal pain. Repeated doses of epinephrine may be necessary.
Even if you are uncertain whether a reaction warrants epinephrine, use it right away; the benefits of epinephrine far outweigh the risk.
Common side effects of epinephrine may include anxiety, restlessness, dizziness, and shakiness. Rarely, the medication can lead to abnormal heart rate or rhythm, heart attack, sharp increase in blood pressure, and fluid build-up in the lungs. If you have certain pre-existing conditions, you may be at a higher risk for adverse effects with epinephrine.
Your allergist will provide you with a written emergency treatment plan that outlines which medications should be administered and when.
Once epinephrine has been administered, immediately call 911 and inform the dispatcher that epinephrine was given and that more may be needed.
Other medications may be prescribed to treat symptoms of a food allergy, but it is important to note that there is no substitute for epinephrine: It is the only medication that can reverse the life-threatening symptoms of anaphylaxis.
Managing Food Allergies in Children
Because fatal and near-fatal food allergy reactions, like other food allergy symptoms, can develop when a child is not with his or her family, parents need to make sure that their child’s school, daycare, or other program has a written emergency action plan with instructions on preventing, recognizing, and managing these episodes in class and during activities such as sporting events and field trips. A nonprofit group, Food Allergy Research & Education,offers has a list of resources for schools, parents, and students in managing food allergies.
If your child has been prescribed an auto-injector, be sure that you and those responsible for supervising your child understand how to use it.