Food allergies affect one in 10 infants and two in 100 adults in Australia. Allergies aren’t predictable; some children grow out of them and some people only develop an allergy in adulthood.
Even if you don’t suffer from one yourself, it’s likely that you know other people who do. Because food is part of our social lives, it’s important that we’re all aware of the dangers of food allergies.
Food Allergy Week begins on 26 May – here’s a quick guide to common reactions and tips for managing food allergies.
What are the foods to be aware of? Well, unfortunately, there are plenty. Here are the most common allergy-triggering foods (they account for 90 percent of reactions in Australians):
- cow’s milk
- tree nuts (e.g. cashews and almonds)
Less common, but still on the list of 170 foods known to have caused severe allergic reactions, are:
- kiwi fruit
Spotting an allergic reaction
When you have an allergic reaction, your body mistakes a food protein as something harmful, triggering an immune system reaction that can affect your breathing, gastrointestinal tract, skin or heart.
Reactions usually happen within 20 minutes of eating and vary in severity from a relatively minor skin reaction to severe anaphylaxis. If left untreated, an allergic reaction can become life-threatening – fast.
- swelling of the tongue, throat, lips, face or eyes
- abdominal pain
- breathing difficulty
- paleness/floppiness in young children.
Anaphylaxis is an allergic reaction that involves more than one body system (skin, respiratory, gastrointestinal, cardiovascular), and should be treated as a medical emergency.
Adrenaline (epinephrine) is the first line of treatment for severe allergic reactions and can be administered via an autoinjector called the EpiPen®. Allergy & Anaphylaxis Australia provides further instructions for what to do in an emergency.
Managing food allergies
There’s no cure for food allergies at the moment, so avoiding foods that cause reactions is the only option for sufferers. This, of course, is easier said than done.
- Carefully reading ingredient lists on food packaging. Be aware that recipes can change over time, mistakes can be made on labels for imported goods, and there can be discrepancies between ingredient lists on inner and outer packaging.
- Telling whoever is making your food. Make your allergy clear to restaurant staff or whoever is supplying food at a social event.
- Being aware of cross-contamination. Deep-fried food is best avoided because the oil can be used to cook a range of different foods at a restaurant. Also beware of BBQs – it’s a good idea to cook your meat on a piece of foil and use a separate utensil, or even invest in your own small portable BBQ that you can use to cook your food separately.
For more information on food allergies and reactions visit www.allergy.org.au
At Family Doctors Plus, we help many patients manage chronic conditions, including food allergies. We can tailor a management plan for your specific needs. Make an appointment with us today.