Living with a life-threatening medical condition is no doubt challenging, especially for children, who are among those with the greatest increase of food allergies. My daughter is increasingly not alone among her peers who must avoid any of the eight common allergens: wheat, soy, milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, fish, and shellfish.
According to a 2013 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study, food allergies among children increased nearly 50 percent between 1997 and 2011. Food Allergy and Research Education (FARE) estimates that is about two kids in every class.
The complexity of food allergies can keep anyone on guard before taking a bite. Here are a few things you can do to help others eat safely and thrive while managing food allergies.
Recognize a food allergy. A food intolerance, sensitivity, or allergy share similar symptoms in reaction (e.g., stomach discomfort). However, when a food allergic person is exposed to any allergen, there is a risk of triggering a life-threatening reaction, known as anaphylaxis. Signs of anaphylaxis can range from breathing difficulty to skin and gastrointestinal symptoms, which require a quick response of administering epinephrine (EpiPen). The best proper diagnosis is getting advice and testing from an allergist.
Be prepared for a reaction. Saving a life is priceless, but there is a cost to having an EpiPen epi-pen always in stock. Both Auvi-Q and EpiPen offer discount savings cards, sometimes a $0 copay depending on insurance coverage. Other allergens such as bee stings, medications, or latex can also cause anaphylaxis. During the summer months, keep two EpiPens safely stored in an insulated case to protect from light and extreme heat.
Safe eating can happen anywhere. Eating safely at home, school, work, or at restaurants starts with informing others about your child’s, or a friend’s specific allergies. Beyond reading labels, talking to chefs and school nurses, as well as apps such as Allergy Eats, are helpful when selecting restaurants, especially when traveling away from home. Always inform a restaurant about your allergies at every visit.
Promote safe access and inclusion. Federal disability laws, such as Section 504, are designed to promote safe access and inclusion for those with food allergies, including at schools and summer camps. The Allergy Law Project is among advocacy supporters that share information about the law and managing food allergies at schools, camps, and while traveling on public transportation, including airlines.
Supporting others with food allergies takes more than having the law on your side; it also takes having people on your side. During this month, advocate for inclusion and promote safe eating to help anyone managing food allergies.
Tia Mason Howard, APR, is a news junkie and public relations guru who enjoys sharing the latest about allergies and her parenting adventures. When she’s not frantically scanning food labels or for recipes, Tia spends most of her days working full-time as a deputy director of media relations. After a career in television news, she changed professions to working in public relations for health non-profits, academia, and technology industries. Tia graduated from James Madison University with a BS in Broadcast Journalism and received a MS in Health Communication from Boston University in 2013. Follow her @theallergymama.