If you or your child has been diagnosed with a food allergy, you’ll often hear the word “avoidance.” That’s because there is no cure for food allergy, and avoidance of the food allergen is the only way to protect against a food allergy reaction. The symptoms of an allergic reaction can range from mild to severe, including anaphylaxis, a serious allergic reaction that is rapid in onset, life-threatening and may cause death.
Once you have been diagnosed with a food allergy, your allergist will likely prescribe an epinephrine auto-injector and provide you with instructions on how to use it. When getting your prescription filled, check the expiration date of your auto-injector and ask about whether your pharmacy offers an auto prescription renewal reminder service. As an extra precaution, note the expiration date on your calendar, and be sure to replace all devices when they have expired.
Always carry your epinephrine auto-injector or have immediate access to it. Seconds count in cases of anaphylaxis, and epinephrine is the only medication that can reverse the symptoms of anaphylaxis. If you have multiple auto-injectors, store them at room temperature and do not expose them to extreme cold or hot temperatures.
Ask your allergist to provide a written food allergy action plan, outlining the treatment course you should follow in the event of an allergic reaction. Make sure school staff and all caregivers have a copy of this plan. To help communicate your food allergy to others during an emergency, wear medical identification jewelry.
These preparations are essential – no matter how carefully you avoid your allergen, accidents can happen, so be prepared.
Tips for Avoiding Food Allergens
- Read ingredient labels thoroughly, and at least twice, even if it is an item you wouldn’t think would contain your food allergen. If a food does not have an ingredient label, it is safest to avoid that food.
- Check packaging thoroughly – sometimes an ingredient listing is placed on one side of a product and an advisory label (i.e., “may contain”) is placed on another side.
- Avoid products with advisory labels for your specific allergen. The use of such labeling communicates some level of risk.
- Read ingredient statements for non-food products, such as lotions, soaps, hair care products, and medications, to ensure these items do not contain an ingredient to which you are allergic.
- Speak to a restaurant’s manager and chef about the accommodations you need before dining out. Order food that is simply prepared, and avoid desserts, as they often contain or have come into contact with food allergens.
- Before traveling, plan for how food allergies will be managed. For example: Will you pack your own food for the trip? Will you have food shipped to your destination? Will you need additional medication? Make sure you keep emergency medication in your carry-on luggage if you are flying. (Do not put these in checked luggage).
- If your child has food allergies, teach them which foods they must avoid and what these foods look like. Role-play with your child so that he or she understands how to respond if a well-meaning person offers food or drink.
- Work with caregivers and with school staff to eliminate or reduce exposure to an allergen while still allowing your child to fully participate in an activity alongside their peers/classmates. Be sure all those caring for or teaching your child are aware of the food allergy action plan and when/how to use medication to treat symptoms.