Living with a Food Allergy
Living with a food allergy can be difficult. You have to be very careful about what you eat and always be ready for emergencies. Here are some tips that will help you avoid the problems that come with food allergies, or deal with them if they do arise.
Causes and Symptoms
A food allergy is when the body’s immune system reacts unusually to specific foods, mistakenly treating proteins found in those foods as a threat. As a result, a number of chemicals are released which can cause symptoms such as an itchy red rash, itchiness in the mouth or throat, swelling of the face or tongue, and vomiting. In the most serious cases, a person can suffer anaphylaxis – a severe allergic reaction which can be life-threatening.
Almost any food can cause an allergic reaction but the ones people most commonly react to include peanuts, milk, eggs, fish and shellfish.
It’s unclear why people develop allergies to certain foods, although often people who do, have other allergic conditions such as asthma, hay fever and eczema.
If you have been diagnosed with a food allergy, you’ll need to make some changes to your diet. The best way of preventing an allergic reaction is to identify the foods that cause them and cut them out of your diet. Here are some tips to get you started:
- Pay close attention to ingredients lists and restaurant menus – many foods and meals may unexpectedly contain the ingredient you’re allergic to.
- Invest in a cookery book with recipes that cater for your food allergy. There are plenty which show how easily common food allergens can be removed or substituted in recipes.
- Be aware of any changes in how you feel after eating. Take note of the very earliest signs of a reaction so you’ll always be able to do something about it as soon as possible.
- Make a written plan of action which outlines what you or your loved ones should do in case of an emergency.
Maintaining a Healthy Diet
Sometimes a food allergy can make it difficult for you to maintain a healthy, balanced diet. Cutting certain foods or food groups, such as dairy, from your diet can put you at risk of nutritional deficiencies, so make sure you discuss any radical changes you think are necessary with your GP or a dietician.
A dietician can give you advice on alternative sources of nutrition that will allow you to get essential vitamins, minerals and other nutrients without triggering an allergic reaction. They will also give you advice about food and drinks you need to avoid, and how to interpret food labels.
Diversifying your diet can often help you replace some of the nutrients you’re missing out on, or simply allow you to eat a wider selection of meals rather than being limited to a few. You may want to try some more exotic fruits and vegetables, or learn new recipes that include some of the foods you know are safe for you to eat.
Recognising Hidden Sources of Food Problems
Having a food allergy means you need to be extra vigilant when it comes to what you consume or are exposed to. Make sure you’re aware of some of the less obvious ways you could come into contact with your triggers:
- Supermarket meat slicers that are used to cut sandwiches may be used to cut other food products too, such as cheese. Small particles of cheese can then be transferred to sliced meats.
- Some restaurants melt butter on steaks after they’ve been grilled or use other common allergens when cooking. When eating at restaurants, you should always let your server know of any allergies before ordering so that this is taken into account during the cooking process.
- Many Chinese, Vietnamese, Thai, African and Mexican meals contain peanuts or are prepared in areas near peanuts.
- Eggs are sometimes used to create foam toppings on speciality coffee drinks.
- Casein, a milk protein, is sometimes used in canned meats.
- Some beanbags are filled with crushed nutshells.
Being Prepared for Emergencies
You should always be prepared for an allergic reaction. In mild cases, you can use antihistamines to relieve symptoms. If you have severe allergies, your doctor will have provided you with an auto-injector of adrenaline to use in case of emergencies. Carry this with you at all times and make sure someone with you knows how to administer the medicine in case you are unable to do so yourself. Make sure they also know to call 999 or take you to A&E.
The Food Allergy Initiative advises people with food allergies to carry a card that lists the foods to which they are allergic. This can be given to chefs or servers at restaurants before ordering food.
While there’s no cure for food allergies, there is plenty you can do to minimise your risk of experiencing symptoms. You just need to be very aware of what triggers your reactions and the steps you need to take to avoid those triggers, and always be prepared for the worst.